California's real problem

Thomas Sowell

9/17/2003 12:00:00 AM - Thomas Sowell

Maybe it is just local pride on my part, but I think California is the purest example of liberal fundamentalism. New York and Massachusetts have their claims on that title, but California is not called the Left Coast for nothing.

Some recent examples: After an initiative was put on the ballot to curb panhandling in San Francisco, Democratic State Senator John Burton threatened to go into court to fight it, even if the voters passed it into law.

Governor Gray Davis recently added to his Left Coast record by signing into law a bill that will allow illegal aliens to get California driver's licenses. Given our lax election laws, this may enable those illegal aliens to vote.

Meanwhile, Lt. Governor Cruz Bustamante, running for governor in the recall election, has denounced businesses for not paying "their share" of taxes and for violating an "unwritten social contract" by not providing enough benefits to their employees.

Just what is the right share of California's high taxes for business to pay? In one word: More. And just what is in this unwritten social contract? Whatever Bustamante says is in it.

This is liberal fundamentalism at its purest: Protect parasites and law-breakers -- and attack those who are producing. The exodus of hundreds of thousands of Californians to other states does not make a dent in this kind of thinking.

Killing the goose that lays the golden egg is a viable political strategy, provided the goose doesn't die before the next election. It could take decades to ruin California completely -- and meanwhile liberals can keep on getting elected again and again.

When the state finally goes down the drain, by then who will remember John Burton, Gray Davis or Cruz Bustamante? By then there will be a thousand other reasons concocted to explain California's problems.

Already there is the all-purpose explanation for the state's problems, trotted out on many occasions -- Proposition 13. Prop 13 kept California homeowners from being eaten alive by property taxes that kept rising as the value of their homes rose, even though homeowners' incomes were not rising nearly as fast.

The only way for a homeowner to translate high real estate prices into actual cash would be to sell the home and either live outdoors or leave California to go to some state where home prices had not yet gone into orbit.

To liberal fundamentalists, the answer to all problems is higher taxes. The very thought of cutting spending is taboo to them.

Even amidst widespread hand-wringing about California's record budget deficit, bums on the streets in San Francisco still get monthly incomes of several hundred dollars each from the taxpayers, quite aside from what they can get panhandling on the streets. Every little city or county government offers all sorts of services free or at subsidized prices, even in the most affluent communities.

Since local governments are subsidized by the state government, all this free-spending largess comes home to roost in the state budget. Its deficit is like the ghost of Christmas past -- only every day is like Christmas in California, with the taxpayer in the role of Santa Claus.

Generosity toward those who are not producing is matched by hostility toward those who are. The greatest hostility is toward those who are producing what the state most needs -- more housing. The very word "developer" is anathema in California.

In other parts of the country, liberals have to dilute their liberalism with a certain amount of concessions to reality. But no such galling compromises are necessary in order to get elected in California.

Here you just advocate all the things that liberals find desirable and don't worry about whether they are mutually contradictory, such as "open space" laws and "affordable housing." Nor do you need to worry about whether all the heavy taxes used to finance giveaways are causing people and businesses to flee the state, taking the taxes they pay with them.

After all, there are plenty of illegal aliens and panhandlers coming in to replace them.