Thursday, December 24, 2009

Brokeback California

In his blog today Ross Douthat bemoans the current state of American government spending and warns of its impending slide into... California. This is an increasingly popular reference and one I'm not sure I'd disagree with. He points to 2 essays by William Voegeli which specify what, in tarnation, is wrong with California.

The first, The Big-Spending, High-Taxing, Lousy-Services Paradigm, lays out the crux of the issue:

What is surprising is the growing evidence that the low-benefit, low-tax alternative succeeds not only on its own terms but also according to the criteria used by defenders of high benefits and high taxes. Whatever theoretical claims are made for imposing high taxes to provide generous government benefits, the practical reality is that these public goods are, increasingly, neither public nor good: their beneficiaries are mostly the service providers themselves, and their quality is poor. For evidence, look to the two largest states in the nation, which are fine representatives of the liberal and conservative alternatives.

So basically, paying less for less ultimately gets you more than paying more for more. He goes on to lay out what he considers is wrong with California.

I must say I find his writing style graceful, yet his arguments unpersuasive.

His main point is that California pays too much and receives to little; its services are inefficient and ineffective. Yet while he does a good job cherry-picking some obviously distasteful-seeming expenditures, he then admits that they represent a small portion of the budget. Instead, he says, their continued defense simply illustrates California politicians' intransigence.

The real problem is the costly pension system, which apparently is too luxurious. Really? Even if this were the case, it hardly seems as though it can receive the blame for California's services being inefficient and ineffective. Unfortunately Voegeli spends almost zero time delving into just how and why these services are so poor. One could almost say that, if pensions were to blame, the only correlation might be to the funds they siphon away. Yet this doesn't make the case for inefficiency and ineffectiveness, but rather underfunding - a position of which I'm sure Voegeli would not approve.

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