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Medieval California

December 27, 2011

Professor Victor Davis Hansen taught classics and now lives in the small southern California farming community where he grew up. Hanson compares the failing state of California to the sacked city of Rome in his article ”A Vandalized Valley”.  As in the failing Roman empire, the city, county and state government of California no longer protects its citizens.  These governments are preoccupied with propping up their political special interests.  To quote Dr. Hanson,

“If I were to use a cellphone while driving and get caught, the state might make an easy $170 for five minutes’ work. If the same officer were to arrest the dumper who threw a dishwasher or refrigerator into the local pond among the fish and ducks, the arrest and detention would be costly and ultimately fruitless, providing neither revenue from a non-paying suspect nor deterrence against future environmental sacrilege. The state needs middle-class misdemeanors to pay for the felonies of the underclass.”

California in 2011 can no longer afford to prosecute poor criminals.  The professor does not use the history of decline to forecast the future, but as in the past, solutions will not come from the state capitol.  Financial problems consume state politicians so they ignore solutions to rural decline.  Their choice is easy.  California politicians pay retired state workers rather than pay for new law enforcement because state workers provide larger political donations to Sacramento.  In rural California, each farmer is left to find his own solutions to theft.  History tells us what happens as the state abandons law enforcement.

Open societies are vulnerable.  Farmers need to secure every piece of property now that the police no longer deter crime.  The police will not stop thieves from taking the Professor’s crops before next years harvest, and theft won’t stop there.  Criminals start with property crime and graduate to crimes against people.  Their crimes escalate in predictable ways-

  • Theft of anonymous and inexpensive commodities such as wire, steel, building materials and fuel
  • Theft of perishable but indistinguishable articles like crops
  • Theft of expensive capital equipment such as pumps, pipe and parts
  • Theft of licensed and identifiable items like trucks, trailers, tractors and livestock when the owner is absent
  • Armed theft when the owner is present (carjacking and “hot” burglary)
  • Robbery (taking cash and valuables directly)
  • Seizing land for ransom
  • Seizing people for ransom with subsequent rapes and murders
  • Demanding regular payments of protection money

Prosecuting these crimes does not make money for the state, but the state rigorously prosecutes tax evasion by property owners.

Open roads are a modern convenience and a security risk.  Farmers form closed communities and close the roads that lie between their farms in order to form a secure perimeter.  Like a gated community, the man at the gate knows and expects you, or you don’t come in.  Tall fences will become the norm to keep human predictors outside.  These fences are monitored, or they will be stolen and sold.  The farm community now carries arms for self-defense and provides for its own security.

Size matters for survival.  The farm is a rural business requiring its own round-the-clock security to protect its property from theft and its employees from harm.  It also requires a legal department to fight increasing state regulation and taxation.  The isolated family farm is too physically and politically vulnerable to meet these demands.  Small farms form cooperative groups or are taken over by larger organizations.  The large hacienda (estate farm) and corporate farm simply have more resources to solve the problems that now overwhelm the farm family.

Successful crime expands and becomes more organized.  Gangs have night vision devices to watch over their night time “workers.”  The arms race of civilization plays out again as the shepard and sheep dog again watch over their flocks…and their almonds and their trucks.  Criminals cut power lines, cut water service, damage buildings and equipment to drive people from their farms.  The gangs then strip or occupy the farm.  Gunfire becomes common and rural travel is dangerous, particularly at night.  The problem for the criminal gangs in this new environment is how to hide their money so the gang is never wealthy enough to prosecute.  Consider the failed state of Mexico for your business model.  That is what happens when crime is not prosecuted.

Physical security matters.  Fences were unnecessary during the “golden years”.  Now security walls enclose the farmhouse and barn.  Later they enclose storage buildings, work areas and high-value crops.  This parallels the development of the walled cities in medieval Europe and the walled Afghan compounds of today.  Like their ancient predecessors, these fences, walls and berms are only as effective as the armed men who stand behind them.

Politics is a part of any upheaval.  Corporate farms need legal sanction to provide for their self-defense, and a few politicians again seek political payoffs to support or oppose them.  The same demographic battle that occurred between the populated California coast and the rural central valley repeats itself on a smaller scale between rural towns and farms.  Some farm areas lack the political muscle to prevail over rural cities who side with the criminal class.

Safety is not taken for granted and reputation matters.  Citizens can no longer assume safe travel or honest dealings.  Counties develop a reputation for their political stability and integrity.. or for their lawlessness.  Some local police protect the thieves and drug gangs.  Rural civilization fails in some counties when corrupt sheriff’s deputies oppose self-defense.

The population of US citizens is already falling in rural California, and the decline accelerates.  Land owners flee and squatters move in.  (Why rent when you can occupy!)  Eventually counties on the California border try to be annexed to Arizona, Nevada, Oregon and Mexico.  The outcome of that political contest depends on whether the county is a financial asset or a financial burden, and if the county provides needed votes for California politicians.  The central valley is stuck with Sacramento for a long long time.

A few sheriffs foresee events and save their counties.  Some don’t.  The failed and abandoned farms become a breeding ground for illegal activity.  Black market business spring up and ignore environmental and labor laws.  Again, the key problem for these black market firms is to hide their money so they are never wealthy enough to for the bankrupt state to prosecute.  Use your imagination.  The gangs and human smugglers will certainly use theirs.

California gives us new lessons in medieval history.

Civilization falls when government serves the special interest rather than citizens at large.


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