|California’s Warning for America|
By Troy Senik
Wednesday, September 02 2009
Americans in the other 49 states can be forgiven if they don’t understand what the big deal about California is. Sure, the Golden State is a land of movie stars, sun kissed beaches and endless innovation. But it’s also a place perched on the edge of bankruptcy, strangled by public-sector unions and radical environmentalists and prepared to release tens of thousands of convicts because it hasn’t built enough prisons. As if that weren’t enough, it’s now concluding the summer with out-of-control wildfires and a massive hurricane off its coast – mother nature apparently intent on showing she can wreak more havoc than the California Legislature.
Who, one wonders, could view this bastion of dysfunction as a model for national greatness? Here’s a hint: he’s the 44th President of the United States.
One of the dirty little secrets of the Obama Administration is that, despite the President’s revolutionary rhetoric, his contributions to American public policy have been thoroughly unoriginal. The stimulus package is rooted in Keynesian economics that date back to the Great Depression. The cap and trade bill is a repackaged version of an idea that has been floating around for a few decades. And government-run health care has been a moral crusade for every Democratic president since Harry Truman.
This lack of innovation has kept the administration from any serious intellectual exertions, but it has also left it open to criticism because of the long track record of failure that accompanies this shopworn liberalism. Among those object lessons, California is the locus classicus.
Empty rhetoric aside, the Obama Administration has proceeded as if its spendthrift habits are at worst a fleeting problem and at best a positive good. But with the White House now projecting $11,000,000,000,000 in new debt over the next decade (a rate that could bring federal debt levels to nearly 100 percent of GDP), the President should cast his eyes to the west.
This year alone, California’s staggering budget deficits have been equal to the size of Croatia’s entire economy. And what has the Golden State reaped in return? Bonds that teeter precariously above junk status, unemployment nearing 12 percent and one of the highest tax burdens in the nation. If Obama wants to head towards prosperity, he is taking the wrong side of the fork in the road.
On cap and trade, the apotheosis of Gore-style environmental statism, Obama has read verbatim from California’s hymnal. Yet one recent study of AB 32, the 2006 California greenhouse gas bill that has served as a model for federal efforts, noted that “the average annual loss in gross state output from small businesses alone would be $182.6 billion, approximately a 10 percent loss in total gross state output.” That a California congressman, Democrat Henry Waxman, is one of the primary sponsors of the bill only goes to show that eco-mysticism is positively allergic to empirical reprimand.
With Obama’s (now largely muted) support of the Employee Free Choice Act, the President has made his fealty to organized labor unambiguous. Perhaps he has drawn inspiration from California, where exorbitant public pensions see more than 5,000 government employees drawing taxpayer-funded retirement benefits of over $100,000 per year. Or perhaps he’s trying to emulate the sterling example of the Golden State’s calcified education system, where the invincibility of teachers’ unions has led the nation’s wealthiest state to an education system ranked only above Mississippi, the nation’s poorest.
Finally, there’s health care, where California’s attempts to pave the way for a single-payer system have been mercifully stifled despite repeated attempts in recent years. However, the logic of this massive redistribution of power still provides a cautionary note for the country. During 2007’s legislative push, one social scientist lamented the backward ways of Californians, noting how they failed to embrace a European-style social contract that forces senior citizens to forego medical care in favor of their younger, healthier counterparts. As the president faces public fears of “death panels,” he would do well to note that even notoriously liberal Californians blanch at government power when human life is held in the balance.
Much has been made in recent months of the disconnect between President Obama’s campaign rhetoric and his governing record. As Americans continue to examine the contrast between words and actions, there is one question they should repeatedly be asking themselves: How many citizens would have voted for a presidential candidate who pledged to make the country look more like California?
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