Our Own Failing States

CAMPO, CA – OCTOBER 08: A U.S. flag put up by activists who oppose illegal immigration flies near the US-Mexico border fence in an area where they search for border crossers October 8, 2006 near Campo, California. The activists want the fence expanded into a fully-lit double-fenced barrier between the US (R) and Mexico. US Fish and Wildlife Service wardens and environmentalists warn that a proposed plan by US lawmakers to construct 700 miles of double fencing along the 2,000-mile US-Mexico border, in an attempt to wall-out illegal immigrants, would also harm rare wildlife. Wildlife experts say cactus-pollinating insects would fly around fence lights, birds that migrate by starlight in the desert wilderness would be confused, and large mammals such as jaguars, Mexican wolves, Sonoran pronghorn antelope, and desert bighorn sheep would be blocked from migrating across the international border, from California to Texas. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

By Theodore R. Malloch
March 14, 2023

(Views expressed by guest commentators may not reflect the views of OAN or its affiliates.)


You have doubtless heard of the theory of “failed states” all the rage in international relations.

It goes something like this.  A so-called failed state is a state that has lost its effective ability to govern its populace. Characteristics of such a state include a government unable to tax and police its citizens, control its territory and maintain its infrastructure.  These failed states have many things in common such as a rise in political and criminal violence, loss of control over borders, rising ethic, religious, and racial hostilities, often civil conflict or war, weak institutions, lack of trust, food shortages, unemployment, steep inflation, drop in GDP, infant mortality increases, and the breakdown of families, schools, and civic associations.

The frameworks used by most political scientists to describe fragile and failed states and build such indexes include: 

  • Factionalized Elites
  • Group Grievance
  • Economic Decline and Poverty
  • Uneven Economic Development
  • Human Flight and Brain Drain
  • Lacking State Legitimacy
  • Poor Public Services
  • Few Human Rights and Rule of Law
  • Demographic Pressures
  • Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons
  • External Intervention

When you look at the most recent lists of failed states, you find a desperate lot of country rankings, led by Yemen, Somalia, Syria, South Sudan, Central African Republic, DR Congo, Sudan, Afghanistan, Chad, Myanmar, Haiti, Guinea, Mali, and Zimbabwe (the list goes on…).

I want to turn that understanding and the locus of attention on its head and suggest we dial inward and begin to take notice that many of our own US states are themselves nearly “failing states.” This has difficult consequences for the nation, its governors, and local communities. Clearly, the US is moving in the wrong direction on many of these measurable outcomes and certain states — are leading in that downward spiral.

Which US place has the highest crime rate?

Washington, DC had the highest property crime rate since 2020, at 3,493 crimes per 100,000 residents. This was 21% higher than Louisiana, the state with the next-highest property crime rate. The most dangerous state by far is California with 3,498 homicides. Coming in the second position is Texas with 2,993 homicides. Certain cities like Memphis, Chicago, Baltimore, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia, are the worst of the worst and the numbers are only escalating making many American cities — unlivable. They are failed cities.

Which is the poorest state in the US?

Poverty rates were highest in the states of Mississippi (19.58%), Louisiana (18.65%), New Mexico (18.55%), West Virginia (17.10%), Kentucky (16.61%), and Arkansas (16.08%). Poverty has been growing, not declining and is not racially-based. California has the worst record here again with half of its large population living below the poverty line. As the sociologist and demographer, Joel Kotkin has written, California is now a “feudal society” with millionaires in gated communities on top controlling a set of serfs who serve them on the bottom.


Which sates have the worst infant mortality rates?

Mississippi, Arkansas, South Dakota, and Oklahoma rate the worst on this measure. And the numbers are closer to very impoverished third world countries than they are to developed country counterparts.

Which states have the highest tax burden?

The winner here is California, with personal income tax of 12.3 % and sales tax of 7.3%. The lowest taxed state is Wyoming, with no income tax and a sales tax of 4%. Nine states have no state income tax and five have no sales tax. Overall, the worst states on taxes are California, New Jersey, Vermont, Connecticut, Oregon, and New York.

Which states have the worst infrastructure?

West Virginia, Rhode Island, Montana, Mississippi, and New Hampshire. California ranked the worst on roads and power grid.

And the highest unemployment?

Nevada, Illinois, Washington, DC, Oregon, Delaware, New York, and Michigan have the highest rates of unemployment. The participation rates are lower countrywide, as many people, especially men, have dropped out of the workforce altogether.

Which states fail to control the border?

US border authorities encountered more than two million migrants in fiscal 2022, according to US Customs and Border Protection figures released in October – up from 1.7 million in 2021. In 2023 the number is expected to be over 4.5 million and the southern border is the area of greatest concern but the issue is dramatically affecting all states. The US no longer has control over its own borders.

Where is the breakdown of the family, schools, and civic life manifest?

States rated worst in family breakdown, divorce and social capital include,

Arkansas, Alaska, Kentucky, Idaho, California, and Alabama which ranked lowest, according to Pew Research.

The two states with severe, crisis level homelessness are, California and New York.


The states with highest drug addiction and overdose rates?

West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Illinois, Maine, and New Hampshire have the biggest drug problem. Cities like San Francisco and Portland are worse than any single state.

If you analyze all this data and massage it, shaking it in cocktail style, you get a sense that the US has many states that are not doing well compared to their peers. And there is one state that surfaces time and again as nearest to the failing category.

That state is California. As Edward Ring has argued (see: https://amgreatness.com/author/edwardring/page/3/), the golden state is not very golden anymore. In statistic after statistic, it is falling and last or near to last among US states. California is certainly not a model to copy. It is not a success and people are moving in droves away from the state.

There is even a new game asking the players to guess the 50 reasons why California is the worst state. (See: https://gamefaqs.gamespot.com/boards/261-politics/64933951.

Why is it that California has gone from Reagan greatness to Newsom’s failure in just a few short decades?

The answer is that it has a one party Democrat-socialist governing structure and is hellbent on making the state into a lunatic asylum. As Victor Davis Hanson put it, the blame is, “a polarity of importing massive poverty from south of the border while pandering to those who control unprecedented wealth in Silicon Valley, Hollywood, the tourism industry, and the marquee universities. Massive green regulations and boutique zoning, soaring taxes, increasing crime, identity politics and tribalism, and radical one-party progressive government were force multipliers.”

The consequence: California, now rivals the list of “shithole” countries listed above.

Ted Roosevelt Malloch is CEO of Roosevelt Global Fiduciary LLC. He served as Research Professor for the Spiritual Capital Initiative at Yale University, Senior Fellow Said Business School, Oxford University and Professor of Governance and Leadership at Henley Business School where he co-led the Director’s Forum.  His most recent books concern the nature of virtuous enterprise, the practices of practical wisdom and “virtuous business,” the pursuit of happiness, the virtue of generosity and the virtue of thrift.  His latest book is Common Sense Business, co-authored with Whitney MacMillan, former Chairman and CEO of Cargill, the world’s largest privately held company. He has served on the executive board of the World Economic Forum (DAVOS); has held an ambassadorial level position at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland; worked in the US State Department and Senate; did capital markets at Salomon Brothers on Wall Street, and has sat on a number of corporate, mutual fund, and not-for-profit boards. He was very active in the Trump campaign of 2016. Ted earned his Ph.D. in international political economy from the University of Toronto and took his B.A. from Gordon College and an M.Litt. from the University of Aberdeen on a St. Andrews Fellowship.  

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