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America’s Biggest Problems Are Intensified in California

The state is on the front lines grappling with income inequality, housing affordability, and climate change.
Composite of two photos showing an area of Magalia, Calif., hit by the 2018 Camp Fire and the land after nearly a year later.

Composite of two photos showing an area of Magalia, Calif., hit by the 2018 Camp Fire and the land after nearly a year later.

Photo Illustration: 731; Photos: Getty Images

More nation-state than U.S. state, California is a land of superlatives: the most populous, the most prosperous, home to the most companies in the S&P 500, the fifth-largest economy in the world. Its scale also makes it one of the most powerful, much to the annoyance of Donald Trump’s Washington. Lately, however, the state is also the most incendiary in the union—not just because of its wildfires and accompanying blackouts, but also because they’ve sparked heated debate over whether its future remains golden or is inexorably in eclipse.

Just past noon under the clear, blue sky of Halloween day, Kurt Mikell returned to survey what remained of his mulch and compost depot downhill of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif. The Easy Fire had torn through Mikell’s 5 acres, about an hour’s drive northwest of Los Angeles, leaving the green and brown hills splotched with black and striped in fire-retardant red. It was the second time in Mikell’s 20 years there that wildfire had destroyed what he’d worked hard to build. But he’s undeterred. “I see a dirty canvas that I’m going to clean up and repaint,” he says, “and it’ll look nicer than it did before.”