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Left Cost/Right Coast: “Go West Young Man” or perception vs. reality

In 1850 Horace Greeley wrote, “Go West, young man, go West and grow up with the country.” How has his promise/vision turned out?
Mike Gold is a retired entrepreneur providing his views on the Northwest. Photo credit: Katie Stearns.

Mike Gold writes for the News of Mill Creek on a regular basis. He is a retired entrepreneur and describes himself as a, “relatively recent transplant to the West Coast. I have lived (born and raised) in the Northeastern U.S. So these observations are based upon ‘living the dream’ in the Pacific Northwest.”

In 1850 Horace Greeley wrote, Go West, young man, go West and grow up with the country.

How has his promise/vision turned out? Well, one could argue he was actually trying to rid New York (he was the founder and publisher of the New York Tribune – one of the most influential newspapers of the 19th century) of all the undesirables by getting them to leave town.

In fact, they named Greeley Square in Manhattan after him. Perhaps he succeeded at what he was trying to do, get rid of all those Democrats – in favor of his staunch beliefs in both the Whig and Republican parties.

The idea was the young country was expanding west of the Mississippi River and it needed citizens to help with the expansion.

Well we certainly are a bi-coastal country today. Some argue that if the West Coast had been settled first, the East coast would never have developed as it did. (Editor’s note: Ronald Regan once said, If the Pilgrims had landed in California, the East Coast would still be wilderness.)

See “It never rains in Southern California,” written and performed by Albert Hammond in 1972. This is where reality hits the theory of the West Coast dream.

Greeley’s idea was that heading west provided unlimited potential for those motivated enough and physically tough enough (many did not survive the rugged trek west). If you actually made it through a very long journey, the opportunity was there to harvest.

Contrast that with today’s (admittedly a 1972 snap shot) of the West Coast dream described in the lyrics of Hammond's song, "It never rains in Southern California, but girl don't they warn ya. It pours, man it pours.”

It is the lament of the broken dreams of someone “getting on a westbound 747” to make it big in show business but whose dreams, like a high percentage of those who try, are shattered by reality.

So is/was the West Coast dream real or fiction?

Well, just think of this: If you had arrived in Southern California in the 1800’s, staked out a typical claim of 40 – 100 acres, say in Malibu, your family would still be living on the dividends of that claim.

On the other hand, if your 100 acres was in Death Valley, you probably don’t have ancestors as you, no doubt, died in the 120-degree summer heat.

If you were really lucky, you were digging fence postholes in your back 20 and black ooze started to come out of the ground.

I’d argue that the potential of the West Coast was as real as anything else of that era.

The Industrial Revolution was well underway in Europe and soon in the U.S. The eastern and mid-western states were larger beneficiaries at that time of this development than the western states.

The U.S. citizens west of the Mississippi were still busy trying to survive (fighting the famous Fugawi Indians) rather than building infrastructure.

While immense fortunes were built through eastern industry (Carnegie, Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, etc.), those developing the western U.S. did very well (such as marijuana farming).

Therein lies one difference between East Coast and West Coast.

The East Coast by the early 1900’s was fully developed. Just like Europe, but without the aristocracy – which ultimately caused many European governments to collapse (let them eat cake only went so far as a domestic policy).

On the East Coast you had large cities everywhere teeming with people. They had the beginnings of organized crime. You’d have to pay “protection” to keep your business crime free to the criminals collecting your protection money!

The East Coast also had factory workers and immigrants already populating them as they moved into the cities from formerly rural areas to earn vast sums (about $5/day in Henry Ford’s factory - $110/day in today’s world). Enough for them to purchase their very own Model T, or a years worth of grain alcohol. No wonder some Model T’s came with their engines mounted upside down – they relied on alcohol for their quality assurance rather than modern zero defect methods.

Out West, there was no crime, but you could get shot if your opponent didn’t like your business practices.

Out West, all you had to do to survive was wander out back and shoot something – hopefully not one of your neighbor’s cattle or their mother-in-law (for which you would be rewarded with 10 head of cattle).

That “go west” promise exists to this day. Only the near bankruptcy of California (too many tax cheats raising cash crops) and not enough tax paying citizens to support all those drawn by the West Coast dream (if you believe this is the cause then I have a bridge over San Francisco Bay I’d like to sell you).

Anyhow, when you listen to the Mommas and Poppas sing “California Dreamin” you too will believe in the west coast dream.

“All the leaves are brown and the sky is grey.”

“I've been for a walk on a winter’s day.”

“I'd be safe and warm if I was in LA.”

“California dreaming on such a winters day.”

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