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California Dream: From Gold Rush to state government going bust
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Jan. 24 marked the 163rd anniversary of the most defining event in California history - the discovery of gold by James Marshall at Coloma.

It wasn't the first time the precious metal was "discovered" in what was to become known as California. But it was the find that electrified not just a nation but the whole world.

The then unprecedented on rush of the 49ers with their ranks filled with men of all stations in life gave full-term birth to the fabled California Dream. Men took incredible risks and often cut corners to save time in their bid to reach the promised El Dorado.

Despite all of the excitement the truth was lasting success stories were few and far between. Hyper-inflation sent the price of lumber up to a dollar a board foot. Meals in San Francisco restaurants went for $35. Flour sold for $50 per hundred pounds. The entrepreneurs and not the miners were the ones who had struck the Mother Lode in early day California.

The price was high for everyone. Cholera was rampant. Life was hard. Value was placed in speculative diggings. Great fortunes as well as health were often squandered in the search for gold. Still, people came leaving established farms, jobs and many times families to chase the golden dream.

In all the romancing about the Gold Rush we tend to forget the downside to chasing the California Dream - or any dream for that matter. It is dealing with setbacks as well as blood, sweat, and tears.

The Great Dust Bowl migration of the 1930s was also in search of the California Dream. The same was true when returning GIs from World War II flooded California. And the same is the case today with immigrants from all over the world still coming to California. America may be the land of opportunity but California is where one can dream even bigger.

It is important to keep the perspective of the Gold Rush - and every other stampede to the Golden State since then - in mind as we face the reckoning that comes with the latest speculative boom which was the unsustainable expansion of state government.

California wasn't as much as trying to become a nanny state as it was trying to serve up an elixir for all of our ills. And just like the Gold Rush, we all bought into the fever to some degree.

The boom is about to go bust. Governor Jerry Brown is absolutely correct. It will be painful, very painful.

But a funny thing about dark times in California: We've emerged from each period even stronger than before.

The Gold Rush provided the hardworking dreamers who supplied the muscle and hustle for the transformation of the state into the world's richest agricultural region as well as giving birth to teeming metropolises. San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Jose aren't just cities. They represent unique components of the California Dream.

The Great Depression gave us the massive diversion of water to make it possible to share the dream with millions more. World War II ushered in the dawn of the space age that put the possibilities Los Angeles had to offer in orbit and ultimately led to the transformation of San Jose into one of the planet's most important high tech hubs. Unfortunately, the "big thing" of the past 20 years has been a public sector attempt at trying to provide people with wealth whether it is culture, financial, or otherwise.

Every expansion has brought a retraction. It is part of the cycle.

The bitter medicine we are about to consume is inevitable. The mine we call state government is played out.

But it isn't the end to the California Dream.