Sunday, January 10, 2010

CALIFORNIA WASN'T SACKED IN A DAY--or, How A Golden State Became A Failed State

Now that I have moved to the Golden State, I have been reading about how it came to be in its current economic and political decline. One very interesting article from The Claremont Institute summarizes the history of the decline over the last century and discusses the role that Progressivism has played:
Rome wasn't sacked in a day, and California didn't become Argentina overnight. Its acquired incapacity to manage its own affairs has been a long, complicated story, with many contributing factors rather than a single villain or tragic flaw. No analysis of California's political demise, however, would be complete without discussing how the Progressive legacy has undermined the state's ability to govern itself.

According to historian Alonzo Hamby, the framework for Progressive politics was the conviction that the political conflict was between "the people" and "the interests." It followed that the highest political duty was to help the people resist and ultimately triumph over the interests. One problem with this framework is that it lends itself better to the disdain than to the practice of politics. "The Progressives did not like politics," writes political scientist Jerome Mileur, because "the politics they saw was not about the public purpose of the nation, but was instead consumed by local interests and private greed, indifferent alike to the idea of a great community and the idealism of grand purpose."

As a result, Progressivism's anti-politics was designed for the people as they ought to be, not as they really are. Positing that the fundamental choice is between the people and the interests presupposes that the people are authentic only when they are disinterested. The Progressives' goal was to equip the people with the means to advance encompassing, lofty ambitions by thwarting the interests' narrow, selfish ones. The means to this end was to collapse the constitutional space between the people and the government, dismantling the political mechanisms that conferred unfair advantages on connected insiders. As the New Republic editorialized in 1914:
The American democracy will not continue to need the two-party system to intermediate between the popular will and the governmental machinery. By means of executive leadership, expert administrative independence and direct legislation, it will gradually create a new governmental machinery which will...itself be thoroughly and flexibly representative of the underlying purposes and needs of a more social democracy.

The California Progressives' reforms included the direct primary, the nonpartisan election of judges, the referendum and initiative, and recall elections. The results, a century later, cannot be what anyone who wishes democracy well had in mind. As journalist Peter Schrag argues in California: America's High-Stakes Experiment (2006), the state's people are groaning under the weight of all the weapons they have been given to fight the interests. California, he writes, has
seven thousand overlapping and sometimes conflicting jurisdictions: cities, counties, school districts, community college districts, water districts, fire districts, park districts, irrigation districts, mosquito abatement districts, public utility districts, each with its elected directors, supervisors, and other officials, a hyperdemocracy that, even without local and state ballot measures, confounds the most diligent citizen.

The analysis was extremely interesting, not the least because it goes on to demonstrate how, even a century ago, there was a tacit acceptance on the part of the utopian idealists of what we now know to be some of the underlying philosophical premises of postmodernism. Progressivism is essentially one more utopian fantasy in a long line of utopian fantasies; a;; adopted by idealistic crusaders whose goal was simply to improve the human condition by improving the species.

If you are interested, you should read the entire article, but this was a particularly fascinating bit:
In California, the political strategies of both conservatives and liberals concentrate on how to deal with that angry public. The conservative strategy is to get the public angry, and see that it stays angry. Conservative talk-radio hosts compete to identify the latest and most astounding outrage, and to see who can denounce it most stridently. The liberal strategy is, as noted, to avoid rousing that public to anger, but also, when the voters do put on their war paint, to wait for their ire to ebb due to the passage of time and the inevitable reappearance of life's many nonpolitical preoccupations. When the anger has passed, government-as-usual can resume without meddling by citizen-amateurs.

Three of California's last four governors, and six of its last nine, have been Republicans. The politicians who secured those victories immediately found it necessary to cooperate with a dominant opposition party; California is, in every other respect, a state that has been becoming more Democratic for as long as its oldest residents have been eligible to vote. California has not given its electoral votes to a Republican presidential candidate since 1988, or been represented in the U.S. Senate by a Republican since 1992. Of the 53 Californians in the U.S. House of Representatives, 34 are Democrats. In the past half-century, each of the two chambers of the state legislature has seen a Republican majority—once. The GOP's state senate majority endured for two years, the one in the lower house for less than a single year.

The evidence is incontestable: the liberal strategy of waiting for the public's anger to subside is far sounder than the conservative strategy of hoping it will gather strength. The liberal calculation rests on a shrewd assessment, not only of human psychology but also of modern mobility. California is not yet East Germany, which means that one of the ways Californians who are mad as hell can decide not to take it any more is by moving away. The Census Bureau shows that California, the state that used to be a magnet, has experienced negative "net domestic migration" since 1990. Between 1990 and 2007 some 3.4 million more Americans moved from California to one of the other 49 states than moved to California from another state.

States don't conduct exit interviews, so there's no way to tell how many ex-Californians left paradise because the taxes were too high, the public services too shoddy, and the unions too overbearing. Whatever the tally, one problem for conservatism in California is that the conservative critique of the state's governance argues as strongly for flight as it does for fight.[emphasis mine)

It seems that the same strategies are now being utilized on a national level by Democrats in Congress and their Republican counterparts. "[T]he liberal strategy of waiting for the public's anger to subside is far sounder than the conservative strategy of hoping it will gather strength..." and this is essentially the reason why Democratic leadership always seems to take "the position that when the voters reject tax increases, the correct response is to press for bigger ones..."

The Dems will pass Health Care Reform; raise taxes and curtail essential freedoms all because they count on a subsiding public anger and eventual loss of interest in these things. Timing is important--clearly they cannot do it too close to an election when public anger is apt to be translated into voting anger. And, that is why Democrats are so desperate to discredit and demonize by any means necessary a grassroots movement like the teaparties--which serve to extend public anger over their behavior.

People will forget. People have lives and things to do. They cannot forever participate in the hyperdemocracy and have counted on their elected representatives to do what is right to preserve their lives, liberty and pursuit of happiness.

But this modest goal on the part of the people conflicts with the progressive agenda. Instead, the Progressive movement has set up a interconnected maze of political elites and elitist organizations whose role is to claim to speak for the people.

These are Obama's beloved "community organizers"; and their lovely organizations like ACORN; and unions like SEIU etc. etc.

As citizens are increasingly treated like children who don't know what is best for them, they withdraw from politics altogether and engage in psychological or physical "flight" from the situation.

On a larger scale, this may be why Americans have generally become relatively passive--even when confronted with a threat to their very way of life, like that of Islamic fanaticism. In Fight, Flight and The Persistence of Evil, I wrote:
...[S]ince the dawn of civilization there has been a broadening of both the concepts of "Fight" and "Flight" to include the adoption of a wide variety of strategies and behaviors more complex than the simple alternatives which were available to our caveman ancestors.

For example (and this is not an exhaustive list), some modern "Fight" behaviors may include:

  • frankly aggressive, combative or violent behavior either in self-defense or proactively

  • argumentative, angry or hostile behavior

  • wars between nations or groups or gangs

  • the use of immature and neurotic psychological defense mechanisms such as displacement (which redirects the anger and combative behavior toward less threatening objects) or projection (which takes one's aggression and places it into others so that one can hide from it and disown it--a sort of indirect fight behavior)

  • use of mature psychological defense mechanisms such as humor and anticipation to prepare to defend one's self or others and to effectively mask anxiety

  • physical exercise; sports; competitions; art and other creative endeavors

  • "Flight" behaviors might include:

  • moving to a new location or abandoning a territory where the threat is too great
  • -e.g., leaving a stressful job that is taking a toll on your health for a new one
    - e.g., leaving a neighborhood where crime is high and moving to a better one
    -e.g., leaving a state or country where there is oppression and emigrating to a free country, or, "voting with your feet"
  • evading capture or submission to those who would oppress you (either physically by hiding) or mentally (by retreating into one's self)

  • the use of diplomatic and rhetorical skills to negotiate with enemies and opponents in order to compromise with them for one's survival; or to appease them; or to submit to them

  • social or psychological withdrawal to avoid dealing with the real world
  • -e.g., this option may include the use of substances to "run away" mentally from the real world
  • the use of immature psychological defense mechanisms such as denial or fantasy or wishful thinking to distort or minimize or eliminate the threat from consciousness

  • the use of neurotic psychological defense mechanisms such as hypochondriasis, reaction formation, passive aggression, displacement and intellectualization to distort or minimize or eliminate the threat from consciousness or to disguise it.

  • the use of mature psychological defense mechansims such as suppression and sublimation or others (for a full discussion of psychological defense mechanisms, see here) to transform the threatening situation into something that is able to be effectively dealt with.

  • "Flight" or any variation of running away can be a successful strategy particularly when you are able to run out of range of the available weapons of the enemy or out of the territory of the predator who wants to eat you. Such a strategy was extremely effective in the days of the caveman, whose weapons only included rocks, stones and spears. It's easy to outrun a spear; or to move out of the lands claimed by your enemy--do that and they will leave you alone.

    It's a bit harder to outrun or dodge a bullet; even more difficult to avoid a conventional bomb; and next to impossible to run away from weapons of mass destruction such as a nuclear or biological/chemical weapon.

    With the development of less personal and more long-range and impersonal tools of aggression, we begin to see how the hardwired strategy of "flight" may be reaching an evolutionary dead end--or, at least a limit to its effectiveness. "You can run, but you cannot hide" from today's weapons systems.

    Undoubtedly, this reality has only caused a escalation of the use of "flight"-equivalent strategies (e.g., appeasement and submission) since literally running away from the situation becomes less and less an option. Political strategies such as diplomacy, compromise, and outright appeasement come to the forefront. As Wretchard noted from the post quoted above, the increased aversion to fighting comes from an intense desire to prevent retribution--not only towards one's self, but also to protect loved ones. This has remained a viable and important strategy because it was effective and worked. Let me repeat that: appeasement works. Compromising with one's opponents and even one's enemies, works.

    Leaving a dysfunctional state such as California or Michigan can work for a time (in my own case, as some of you have noticed and commented; it is a bit like jumping "out of the frying pan, into the fire"!) But with Progressivism functioning at a national level, failed states like California are the norm. The U.S., by all economic and political measures is well on its way to becoming a failed nation.

    Perhaps more and more people are beginning to appreciate that the appeasement of enemies who want to destroy our very way of life is both "logical" and parallel to the passivity and appeasement that most Americans will opt for when it comes to national politics. The Progressive agenda depends on a short attention span and a narrowing of focus to the purely personal and emotional.

    John Maynard Keynes, a social progressive and economist probably articulated the essential nihilism of Progressivism best (albeit unintentionally) when he first uttered the (in)famous economic rule that, "The long run is a misleading guide to current affairs - in the long run we are all dead."

    And, in the long run--as long as progressive policies continue to dominate the national agenda--then so is the USA.

    UPDATE: After posting the above, I came across George Will's article on Sunday in the Washington Post: Fiscal Liberalism Has Tarnished California Gold. Go read it if you are so inclined. The demise of a once great state seems to be a popular topic.

    No comments: