08/11/2020

Is California’s Bubble Bursting?

California has a long history of boom and bust cycles, but over the past 25 years or so, California’s cycles appear to be becoming more volatile, with increasing frequency, higher highs, and lower lows.  The fast-moving business cycle may not provide the time necessary for many people to recover from previous busts, and may be too limited in its impact. Even now, 22 of California’s 58 counties have unemployment rates of 7.5 percent or higher. Eleven California counties have unemployment rates of at least nine percent.  And these, we are told, are the best of times.

Policy behavior is predictable throughout the business cycle. 

Sacramento is awash in cash during a boom, because California’s revenues are more closely related to asset prices than economic activity.  As the economy grows, particularly in an era of ultra-low interest rates, asset prices climb faster than the economy grows, and California is flush.  Sacramento acts as if the boom will continue forever.  Spending commitments are increased, or taxes are decreased.  Politicians congratulate themselves on “fixing” the budget problem.

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