Californian Democracy: Paving the Road to Ruin

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As California goes, so goes the country. Do you remember when these words were proudly spoken by champions of populist democracy determined to make California the model for national progress? From public education to universal healthcare to labor-friendly workplace laws to progressive taxation to environmental leadership, Californians were going to show the rest of us backward Americans what happens when Power to The People becomes more than just a slogan.

Could anyone ask for a better environment in which to test this muscular model of democracy? And what a test it was as Californians pioneered the ballot initiative to make the law exquisitely responsive to the will of The People.

Large enough to be a country in its own right, blessed with an abundance of natural resources, powered by a diversity of industries, home to some of the world’s top universities, and incubator of a storied entrepreneurial culture that is the envy of the world, California has all the resources any body politic could ask for.

So, what hath The People wrought?

The People have been living large, awarding themselves a 50% increase in the state budget over the past seven years. In order to pay for this cornucopia of largesse, personal and corporate income tax rates are among the highest in the country. The sales tax is on its way past 10%.

How has this worked out?

California is staring at a $42 billion state budget hole – the largest of any state shortfall in the nation’s history. The People have defaulted on more mortgages than the citizens of any other state. California’s general obligation bonds are rated lowest in the land, lower than even postdiluvian Louisiana, making it increasingly difficult and expensive for The People to borrow money. Unemployment is ten percent, and rising fast. One of four of The People’s children are dropping out of school. The list of broad-based dysfunction grows daily as the state teeters on the edge of bankruptcy.

Is it a surprise that citizens and business have begun fleeing? California lost more people to out-migration in 2008 than any other state, according to U.S. Census estimates. 2009 is shaping up to be even worse. The People are voting, all right. With their feet.

If you enjoyed watching billions get ineffectively squandered bailing out incompetent bankers and zombie car companies, you’ll love watching what’s left of your tax dollars get shipped off to California.

Despite the governator’s road-to-Damascus centrist conversion, California’s blue and red tribes remain locked at each other’s throats. Each claims that giving in to the other would precipitate disaster, as if disaster hasn’t already struck. So what is the classic Californian remedy for this gridlock? Lawyers are busy dismantling the last vestige of legislative checks and balances, which is the requirement that state budget bills achieve a two-thirds majority in order to pass. Apparently, The People want more power. Damn the minority, full speed ahead!

Can you imagine how California’s woes would be compounded if politicians in Sacramento had the power to issue their own currency? How long do you think it would be before the Sunshine State started to look like Bolivia?

Californians upset with the cultural backwardness of less enlightened Americans used to threaten secession. Sounds good to me; don’t let the door hit you in the keister.

Could California’s nightmare presage what the rest of us might expect as we empower our federal government to do “whatever it takes” to “fix the economy,” as if it were a broken watch?

As Congress doles out billions to anyone willing to prostrate themselves at the Capitol steps, are you surprised that those remaining productive elements of society hunker down in fear, not knowing what fresh outrages tomorrow might bring? What will stop ever more resources from being shifted into the public sector as The People shout down the minority, whose prior contributions to the mess have rendered them as impotent as they are intellectually bankrupt?

Could it be time to pause a moment and reflect on what we are doing to ourselves or are we happy behaving like a man with a raging fever who bursts into a pharmacy and starts randomly ripping open bottles of medicine, swallowing whatever pills he can get his hands on hoping that something – anything – might work?

Restarting the engine of our economy will take more than asking The People which tribe to let run amok. The illusion that either has the solution is the source of the problem.

Please, put the circus on hold and let’s turn off the TVs and get back to work. We can bake our own bread.

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