Bakersfield has seen this before, 40-plus years ago. The potential for a 40-plus years effect is, again, very real ("ROBERT PRICE: Is the end of Kern oil production really upon us? Sure sounds like it," Aug. 11; "Economy not so rosy for the middle class," Aug. 11; "COMMUNITY VOICES: Kern County’s way of life is under attack," Aug. 11).
What I’m referring to is in the mid-1970s (and before) when I was in my later-30, you could take a spouse or a friend to San Francisco or Los Angeles for a night out or a day in the big city for a $40, roundtrip, non-stop ticket. There was outgoing on United Airlines one morning flight (returning at 4:30 p.m.) and one late afternoon flight (returning at 11:50 p.m.). It was the result of a subsidized Federal Aviation requirement for all mid-sized cities in our country.
When the economic expansion in our country caused the major cities to have significant increases in real estate costs and wages (and inflation in most other areas), the subsidized Federal Aviation requirement provided the “cost effective” obvious answer for expanding national businesses. Relocate the expansion to the nearest mid-sized city where real estate costs were much less and unemployment provided available and willing workers at a lower cost, because the cost of living was lower.
Consequently, for example, Bakersfield became the headquarters for a smaller national telephone company, then a smaller national oil company moved from Los Angeles, then a major insurance company made and executed plans to expand to Bakersfield, and then other major companies began to make similar plans. However, during that same time frame, the major airlines decided and joined together to convince the federal government that the government could help its then current budget deficit problems by eliminating the subsidized Federal Aviation requirement and that change would give them the opportunity to “compete” for greater profits. Letting them “compete” with each other would keep prices for tickets down, and because of their need to make a profit, no mid-sized city would fail to receive the needed air service. Well Bakersfield, and mid-sized cities all across the country, clear to New Jersey, found out how poorly that plan worked for them (and the record of how well it worked for the airlines’ “bottom-lines” is equally dismal). The prescription – the “cure” being better economic diversification – for all mid-sized city economies affected 40-plus years ago, and with a potential for a repeat now, is to recognize the mistake in changing federal policy back then and reinstated what was, of long-standing, the previous policy.
This almost overnight change in the last half of the 1970s was the first of many economic “blocks” to fall and create decades of economic chaos, still on-going, for the mid-sized city economies of our country (i.e. as reflected in Froma Harrop’s column). It created a need for major economic federal government bailouts in the 1980s which were so large that they were treated as exceptions to be accounted for off-budget separately, so that the politicians of both major parties wouldn’t have any explaining to do.
Michael J. Daillak is a founding member of the Kern Community Foundation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.