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Thoughts on a Schizophrenic Society

June 27th, 2009 - 8:37 am

We spend more on criminal justice and incarceration than any other state. Entitlements are more generous than elsewhere. There are nearly five million illegal aliens in the state; Los Angeles is the second largest city of Mexican nationals in the world, with the accompanying expense of thousands of illegal aliens without legality, English, or higher education. A brain drain means that 300-400,000 workers with specialized skills and/or BA degrees in disgust leave the state each  year; nearly an equal number of those without education enter.

Regulations on business are far too complex and burdensome, and geared toward employee litigation. I could go on, but all this is well known. Daily columnists write about “California-the Canary in the Mine.” They shower us with statistics about the above, with the theme that we already know where Obamics will soon lead.


California Rules

I write only to suggest that many of us do not need statistics, but long ago sensed the state was, well, unsustainable. Here are some of the symptoms that struck me the last few years.

I watched the UC and CSU systems create untold numbers of new administration jobs, staff them with incompetents that had no market value in private enterprise, and lavish $100,000 salaries with generous benefits as they contributed nothing to the teaching of students.

I would see four or five in the parking lot get into their state cars (I remember the local scandal of the mammoth administrator SUVs replete with boat hitches and tow packages) and wonder-how can a state afford a million dollars for that bunch who bring us nothing in return?  (California Rule One: Most California executives would gladly work for two-thirds of what they receive, given the absence of commensurate offers from the private sector).

Worse, when the inevitable budget cuts came, these same four would send us memos, advise us to warn the public, and terrify the electorate with stories of social collapse if taxes were not raised to “save the kids.” In response, they would lay off the Russian professor, cut the part-time history teachers (all gifted, teaching for us for ten cents on the dollar), and then decry a “greedy voter.”  (California Rule Two: To save the superfluous, the essential will always be cut.)

We in the state soon were used to the modus operandi. A well-paid functionary  threatens financial Armageddon unless taxes are raised, issues edicts cutting essential services, and then sort of chuckles when proposed cuts incur hysteria: the subtext being that you will burn in your homes, be mugged on the street, have no garbage service unless you continue to pay me $150,000 a year–with a $100,000 pension for life to administrate, counsel, adjudicate, pontificate, and excoriate.

The problem was not just that there were too many employees per se, or even too many overpaid employees (many in fact were hard-working and underpaid), but rather too many who simply did absolutely nothing constructive at all at the top of the pay scales. (California Rule Three: There are no private counterparts to California’s top state jobs.)

About 1995 I walked into a packing-house of a friend-dozens packing fruit, fork-lift driving, and engaged in frenzied production to ensure all of us fresh produce. The owner mentioned that four regulators had come that day: one to inspect the fruit (fair enough), one to check safety (sorta fair enough), one to monitor minimum wages (kinda sorta fair enough), and one to inspect chemical storage. All in theory necessary, all costly since the regulators were far better paid with state cars than the workers.

When I pointed that out, my friend laughed and added that three of his employees (he pointed to them) had sued him for various disabilities and work-related injuries over the past two years: he could not fire them, they were back at work, and apparently quite healthy. I thought at the time: this is all wonderful in a perfect world, but who shall pay for it all? (California Rule Four: The more someone toils to keep the state going, the more the state tries to destroy him.)

An Hispanic student from Phoenix once complained to me that he paid three times the level of tuition as did many resident illegal aliens in my class, and added when he went to central services to object, they instead advised shortcuts on obtaining California residency so that he too could obtain discounted tuition.  (California Rule Five: The state that nourishes you incurs disdain rather than loyalty.)

I once gave a talk years ago in the Santa Barbara hills and joked to the audience that I was glad to see there were still a few oil platforms out in the bay. Not silence, but furor followed that bad joke. Yet as I left, as I mentioned once before, the parking lot was full of SUVs. Where did the gas come from?

This weird “they” is what killed California, the notion that somewhere in a room a group of plutocrats sits on bags on ill-gotten gold and can be dragged out and forced to cough up bullion in tough times. Do we believe that the Big Four of Huntington, Stanford, Hopkins, and Crocker are still around, hoarding half of the state’s resources? (Rule Six: No matter how broke California becomes, there is always someone else somewhere who can and should pay for others.)

Once during a brief teaching sojourn at Berkeley, a biology student struck up a conversation. He was talking about  a class he had that dealt with the ecology of San Francisco Bay. I heard what I realize only now was an early explanation of why we are idling thousands of acres to keep the Delta smelt alive: this strange combination of utopian demands for pristine landscapes coupled with the assumption that 36 million daily can go down to a Whole Earth co-op and  buy cheap, organic fruit in abundance. (California Rule Seven: Stopping production for environmental reasons nevertheless should result in increased production.)

What killed California-the same old schizophrenia we see everywhere in our want-it-all society: I expect A to be provided by B, and, if not, I will blame “them.”

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