As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Monday, May 25, 2009

Get Your Bananas

Paul Krugman actually understands the nature of the crisis here in California, and he writes about it today.

Despite the economic slump, despite irresponsible policies that have doubled the state’s debt burden since Arnold Schwarzenegger became governor, California has immense human and financial resources. It should not be in fiscal crisis; it should not be on the verge of cutting essential public services and denying health coverage to almost a million children. But it is — and you have to wonder if California’s political paralysis foreshadows the future of the nation as a whole.

It's a key point. Without the insanity of Prop. 13, making revenue so unstable and volatile from year to year, and completely inequitable, locking in older homeowners while increasing the tax burden on younger ones, the crisis would be as manageable as other states. Without the Trojan horse of the 2/3 rule for taxation snuck in through Prop. 13, the tax structure would not become the hideous, mangled beast we see today, where the effective tax rate is higher for the lowest-income Californians than for those with the highest income. And without the growing extremism of the Yacht Party, where anyone who breaks Grover Norquist's pledge draws an effort to drum them out of the party, perhaps Sacramento would be populated with public servants who want to fix the problem instead of break it.

Krugman's point is to sound a warning bell for the nation at large, to view the problems of obstruction and dysfunction at the state level with a wider lens. He explains that Republicans have "been driven mad by lack of power," with the extremist rump faction predominant. But even then, he gets that California's problems are unique.

So will America follow California into ungovernability? Well, California has some special weaknesses that aren’t shared by the federal government. In particular, tax increases at the federal level don’t require a two-thirds majority, and can in some cases bypass the filibuster. So acting responsibly should be easier in Washington than in Sacramento.

But the California precedent still has me rattled. Who would have thought that America’s largest state, a state whose economy is larger than that of all but a few nations, could so easily become a banana republic?

It's a sad commentary, when the finest liberal columnist in America basically reassures his readers that no government could possibly be as ridiculously constructed as California's.

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