2011 October 08 Saturday
Clueless Voters Defeat California Reform Attempts

In a recent post I pointed you all to a piece by Michael Lewis about sick American states in which California plays a big role. If you haven't read it yet here's an excerpt from page 3 about Arnold Schwarzenegger's failed attempt to turn around the state's finances. He was badly beaten by the public employee unions which used their money to get the public to oppose the public's interests.

Two years into his tenure, in mid-2005, he’d tried everything he could think of to persuade individual California state legislators to vote against the short-term desires of their constituents for the greater long-term good of all. “To me there were shocking moments,” he says. Having sped past a do not enter sign, we are now flying through intersections without pausing. I can’t help but notice that, if we weren’t breaking the law by going the wrong way down a one-way street, we’d be breaking the law by running stop signs. “When you want to do pension reform for the prison guards,” he says, “and all of a sudden the Republicans are all lined up against you. It was really incredible, and it happened over and over: people would say to me, ‘Yes, this is the best idea! I would love to vote for it! But if I vote for it some interest group is going to be angry with me, so I won’t do it.’ I couldn’t believe people could actually say that. You have soldiers dying in Iraq and Afghanistan, and they didn’t want to risk their political lives by doing the right thing.”

Arnie was ready to fix the place. If he'd been dictator he could have made California a much better state. But its decay will continue. Democracy has failed.

The clueless voters were every bit as irresponsible as their elected representatives.

He came into office with boundless faith in the American people—after all, they had elected him—and figured he could always appeal directly to them. That was his trump card, and he played it. In November 2005 he called a special election that sought votes on four reforms: limiting state spending, putting an end to the gerrymandering of legislative districts, limiting public-employee-union spending on elections, and lengthening the time it took for public-school teachers to get tenure. All four propositions addressed, directly or indirectly, the state’s large and growing financial mess. All four were defeated; the votes weren’t even close. From then until the end of his time in office he was effectively gelded: the legislators now knew that the people who had elected them to behave exactly the way they were already behaving were not going to undermine them when appealed to directly. The people of California might be irresponsible, but at least they were consistent.

This is one of the many reasons I am very bearish on the future of California. The coastal region will continue to have great weather. But the voters want plenty of services without paying for them. The voters of California are a microcosm of the voters of America. The American people are deluded into thinking their living standards can be maintained. They engage in reckless actions to try to maintain them. Time to admit government must do less and the public must spend less.

Click thru to the page above and read the details about just how thoroughly the public employee unions have managed to make the California government exist more for the employees than for the voting public.

We need some form of modified democracy. The voters are clearly not up to the task. Got any ideas on how to reform democracy?

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2011 October 08 07:15 PM  Democracy Failure

Op101 said at October 8, 2011 9:54 PM:

Let it fail, the more spectacular the better. I will be cheering the loudest.

Sam said at October 8, 2011 10:08 PM:

We had it. Literacy test.

Mthson said at October 8, 2011 10:37 PM:

The governor at least vetoed the proposed restoration of affirmative action in universities.

California's top schools like UC Berkeley and UC Irvine are mostly Asian-American because California outlawed the racial discrimination that liberals use in most US schools use to keep out high-performing Asian-Americans.

red said at October 8, 2011 11:06 PM:

Democracy fails in general. A very conservative friend of mine voted against all 4 initiatives because he was taken in by the wall to wall propaganda against them. After he voted against them I explained what he done he and he was aghast about it. Democratic votes almost always go to the side with the best propaganda machine and thus are useless for long term governance.

solaris said at October 9, 2011 2:04 AM:

>"Got any ideas on how to reform democracy?"

Abolish public sector unions.

>"A very conservative friend of mine voted against all 4 initiatives because he was taken in by the wall to wall propaganda against them."

I don't recall exactly how much the unions spent on defeating those ballot initiatives, but it was over a hundred million dollars. Public sector unions are the root of all evil. (All right, not quite, but close)

solaris said at October 9, 2011 2:06 AM:

>"Democracy fails in general."

Everything fails in general. Autocracies don't have a very good record either.

red said at October 9, 2011 10:33 AM:

The royalist system actually has a much better track record. Good governance in a monarchy lasts in the 100 of years vs in the 10 of years with Democracy. The fundamental difference between kingship and democracy/dictatorship is the nobility has a long term interest in the nation seceding. People who are not passing their offices to their children are more interested in short term gain.

I personally would rather be ruled by Steve Jobs instead of some nameless and irresponsible bureaucracy. When a king screws up everyone knows who to blame.

Besides what is Democracy good for? We have fewer freedoms, rights, families after 200 years of democracy than we had under mad king George. Not to mention 100X more crime, 100X more non crimes that good men are sent to jail for, 100X more fear of our own government.

WJ said at October 9, 2011 6:11 PM:

Perhaps Schwarzenegger had the best of intentions, but reading parts of the article caused me to suspect that his attempts were marred not just by voters but by a failure to properly execute.

Take this: “There were a lot of times when we said, ‘You just can’t do that,’ ” says his former chief of staff, Susan Kennedy, a lifelong Democrat, whose hiring was one of those things a Republican governor was not supposed to do.

So Schwarzenegger the Republican hires a liberal Dem to be his chief of staff? And this was no moderate, Democratic Leadership Council-style of Democrat. An L.A. Times article describes her: "She is a gay Democrat who began her career 30 years ago as an activist for liberal causes and served as a high-ranking aide to the governor's recalled predecessor, Gray Davis...But Schwarzenegger stuck with her, trusting Kennedy, 49, to wield his authority so completely that they came to be described as "governor and governess," or "the big governor and the little governor."

Whatever her devotion to Arnie, something tells me that longtime activists don't readily suspend their principles in order just "to win." 2005, when he made Kennedy his C-o-S, seems about like the time when Republicans really started giving up on Arnie. His ballot initiatives were also considered too aggressive. By putting four on the ballot at once he helped to solidify the opposition to all of them. Winning one or two at a time would have been more realistic and effective. California is hardcore liberal. You need to walk it back from the cliff edge slowly, one step at a time. To switch metaphors, Arnie shot the moon and lost.

Mercer said at October 9, 2011 6:57 PM:

A long article about CA that blames it's problems on gerrymandering and "lizard brains" but does not mention immigration should be taken with a grain of salt. The pensions can be reduced by bankruptcy courts. What can be done about the millions of low skilled Latinos? Importing millions of low earning workers into a high cost economy is stupid. This was done against the wishes of the voters. I don't think it was the voters who were clueless. It is people like Lewis.

WJ said at October 9, 2011 8:08 PM:

I didn't notice the absence of immigration. It does mention the Vallejo bankruptcy, however. Vallejo demographics: 22.1% black, 21.1% Filipino, 22.6% Hispanic. Sounds like a veritable United Nations of indebtedness.

I don't think the bankruptcy courts should be the only pathway to reforming government pension benefits. On the other hand, I would never be dumb enough to buy a muni bond from anywhere in California. Maybe the best way to "reform" our system is to stop lending governments money. If they have to tax in order to spend the game will be over.

Black Death said at October 10, 2011 5:19 AM:

I am tempted to note that democracy also failed in Weimar Germany in the early 1930's, and another Austrian took over and cleaned up the mess pretty quickly, although at some cost. But that was a long time ago.

solaris said at October 10, 2011 5:59 AM:

>"The royalist system actually has a much better track record."

The royalist system is all but extinct, though it survives in places like Saudi Arabia. Some "much better track record"!

>"I personally would rather be ruled by Steve Jobs instead of some nameless and irresponsible bureaucracy. When a king screws up everyone knows who to blame."

I've always said that libertarianism is fundamentally un-American. Personally I'd be delighted if all the libertarians were ruled by Steve Jobs, preferably on Easter Island or some other remote location. Yes, when a king screws up, everybody knows who to blame. But they CAN'T blame him without losing their heads!

It's a curious thing that modern libertarianism is little more than a longing for rule by tyrants. (in the Greek sense) I've noticed that people who long for a tyrant to rule always assume that the tyrant will reflect their own beliefs. Communism worked in this fashion, and libertarianism is communism's bastard cousin. But I'll say this much for the commies - THEY never pined for their tyrants to be hereditary.

Mthson said at October 10, 2011 10:06 AM:

Solaris, libertarians generally advocate the opposite of authoritarianism. If any organization's control structure is very centralized, in order to appeal to libertarians and high performers, it would need to be minimalist enough to allow for (1) meritocracy, and (2) voluntary opt-outs if the organization becomes restrictive.

solaris said at October 10, 2011 2:00 PM:

>"Solaris, libertarians generally advocate the opposite of authoritarianism."

Except for all the libertarians I encounter ('red' is far from unusual) who long for authoritarianism. A great many libertarians describe democracy as "a sheep and two wolves voting on what's for dinner". Why not ten sheep and one wolf voting on what's for dinner? But let's not get bogged down in details, the point is that libertarians as a group are exceptionally hostile to civic liberty and representative democracy. This inevitably pushes them into support for authoritarianism. 'red' is being logically consistent on this point and you are not.

>"voluntary opt-outs if the organization becomes restrictive"

A society is not an "organization". It's not a corporation or a business which people may join if they wish and "opt-out" of if they wish. So that analogy does not work. But that view of society as a organization assumes the existence of a board of directors and a CEO (which is rather authoritarian) and it also assumes that the organization can "hire" and "fire" people. That is, the LSA (Libertarian States of America) would be able to hire people (confer LSA citizenship on anyone it wanted) and also fire people (revoke LSA citizenship from anyone it wanted).

Mthson said at October 10, 2011 3:14 PM:


It sounds like you live somewhere that's divorced from the national narrative, because if you look at what is said by libertarians who have prominence in the national marketplace of ideas like Peter Thiel, Ron Paul, and John Mackey, they're advocating less government, not hereditary kingship.

It seems strange to try to convince libertarians that it's not in their interest to support conservatives, but do you as wish.

lil mike said at October 10, 2011 5:25 PM:

Frankly, I'm all for letting California collapse under it's own weight. I'm not mad at California; I lived in the Monterey area for a while and it is beautiful and the weather is great. But California presents a great test case of liberal governance. It will be a great example for years as to what not to do.

Thanks California for the teachable moment.

map said at October 10, 2011 11:39 PM:

I completely understand the fact that unions are closed shops and monopolies on labor and these things go hand in hand to raise prices beyond what the market would charge. Yet, I have to wonder, do these public employee union salaries really represent ill-gotten sinecures? Are these salaries really outrageous? California is a very expensive state to live in, especially if you're white and want to raise your kids in white neighborhood. Maybe these union compensation packages do not represent sinecures at all. Maybe they represent the difference between living in California and having to move.

I think the attacks on the unions are becoming unseemly. The problems with unions were illustrated decades ago, and now that people have figured out was obvious long ago, they are engaged in a "piling on" effect that I really don;t like.

solaris said at October 12, 2011 12:51 PM:

>"It sounds like you live somewhere that's divorced from the national narrative, because if you look at what is said by libertarians who have prominence in the national marketplace of ideas like Peter Thiel, Ron Paul, and John Mackey, they're advocating less government, not hereditary kingship."

You seem to be divorced from the narrative of this thread, where I was responding to remarks made by commenter 'red'.

It seems strange that you disagree with his "kingship" ideas, but you are arguing with me and not him. What's that all about?

Returning to the topic of California, I can't believe that nobody has pointed out yet that "libertarians" went to the mat to try to defeat Prop 187 and preserve welfare for illegal immigrants. So you'll have to forgive me if 'm skeptical of the claims that libertarians are gung-ho to reduce the size of the state to the bare minimum.

The same is true of immigration in general. It's always self-described libertarians who argue for open borders and "the free movement of labor between countries", even though immigration is the health of the welfare state. During the cold war it was often said that liberals were operationally communists. Libertarians are operationally statists, regardless of whatever it is they think they are doing.

Mthson said at October 12, 2011 2:30 PM:


Ron Paul's border and immigration position is as conservative as the most conservative members of congress. His position is far more conservative than Romney, Perry, etc. Similarly, Peter Thiel donates to immigration restrictionist organizations.

solaris said at October 12, 2011 5:35 PM:

>"Similarly, Peter Thiel donates to immigration restrictionist organizations."

Glad to hear it, although that's not responsive to the points I've been making. Libertarianism is generally in favor of almost unfettered immigration. Just read some stuff at Cato or Reason if you doubt it.

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