Saturday, February 21, 2009

California: Adventures in left wing ideology

California is an interesting state to study. By almost any measure it is a true blue Democratic bastion. The legislature is run by Democrats. Both of its US Senators are Democrats and the Congressional delegation is split 34-18 in favor of the donkeys. Its governor, meanwhile, is a nominal Republican that preaches in favor of more stringent environmental standards and goes hat in hand to Washington seeking money to shore up the state's finances. The state has gone in the Democratic column in every presidential race since 1992.

In short it is something of a Democratic playground where politicians have the ability to implement all sorts of left wing priorities like various environmental laws, high taxes (sales tax: 7.25%, top marginal income tax rate of 9.3% kicks in at around $40,000), a budget that has almost doubled in the past 10 years and a heavy regulatory burden on businesses. Together these factors have combined to make California 47th out of the 50 states in terms of economic freedom as ranked by the Pacific Research Institute.

Ze Governator in action

As Matthew Kaminski says, California has become France:
Even discounting for the impact of global recession, the most populous state's ills are unique and self-inflicted -- and avoidable. In the last three decades, California expanded the public sector and regulation to Europe-like dimensions. Schools, state employees, health care, even dog kennels, benefited from largesse in flush times. Government workers got 16 official holidays, everyone else six. The state dabbled with universal health care and adopted strict environmental standards. In short, California went where our new president and Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco want America to go.

Now there's much to recommend the Old World. California brings to mind my last home, France -- God's country blessed with fertile soil for wines, sun-blanched beaches, and a well-educated populace. Amusingly, both states are led by bling-bling immigrants married to glamorous women and elected to shake up the status quo. In both departments, the governator got a head start on Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris.

The parallels are also disquieting. The French have long experienced the unintended consequences of a large public sector. Ask them about it. As the number of people who get money from government grows, so does the power of constituencies dedicated to keep this honey dripping. Even when voters recognize the model carries drawbacks, such as subpar growth, high taxes, an uncompetitive business climate and above-average unemployment, their elected leaders find it near impossible to tweak the system. This has been the story of France for decades, and lately of California.
He goes on to add that the state is in a "France-like bind" where its welfare state can neither be afforded nor reformed. The state's travails has produced a net migration away from the state with almost 100,000 leaving from 2000-04 and the pace likely increasing since. Query people from neighboring states and they can likely tell you stories about hoards of Californians flocking to their area.

One must also consider that people are, on net, leaving California despite its beaches, excellent climate and numerous other attractions. One can only imagine what things would be like if California had the same climate and amenities as, say, Michigan.

With Democrats now ruling the roost with sizable majorities in Congress and control of the White House, California may be a preview of things to come.

Update: Looks like I was right about the net migration bit:
Net outmigration has been growing every year since about 2003 and should reach well over 200,000 by 2011. This outflow would be far greater, notes demographer Wendell Cox, if not for the fact that many residents can't sell their homes and are essentially held prisoner by their mortgages.
Read the whole thing.

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