FREE hit counter and Internet traffic statistics from

Thursday, October 09, 2003

Gov. Arnold

I'll have to admit that I was suprised that Arnold actually won, but then again in California anything is possible. Unfortunately, I don't think Arnold is going to be able to save California. Aside from the fact that he likely doesn't know what he's talking about, I recently read some interesting analysis of California in the book The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at home and abroad by Fareed Zakaria.

Basically, Zakaria views California's fiscal and management troubles as largely a creation of their own making through the overuse of "direct democracy" through the ballot initiative process. Zakaria notes that since proposition 13 in 1978 which lowered taxes to 1975 levels and put a limit on the amount taxes could grow, Californians (and the nation at large) have fallen in love with bypassing legislatures and making their own laws. In the 1990s there were 378 such referendums across the country compared with 257 in the 1980s, 181 in the 1970s, and 88 in the 1960s. In the year 2000 alone there were 204!

Zakaria feels that citizens going over the heads of the legislatures causes more problems than it solves since the normal give and take of politics is destroyed and instead politicians are mandated to act in a certain way. In the biggest example, 85 percent of California's budget is actually untouchable by Arnold and the legislature as the result of ballot initiatives (for example, proposition 98 mandates that 40% of the budget be spent on education). As a result California now spends very little on infrastructure (5% today as opposed to 22% in the 1950s). So what do they do? They propose yet another ballot iniative to allocate 1% of the budget to fix bridges etc.

Zakaria also argues that since the normal give and take of the political process is bypassed, even iniatives that seem like a good idea to conservatives like me (ending affirmative action in prop 209 and regulating immigration in prop 187) end up having polarizing effects. He contrasts these efforts with the welfare reform package passed by congress during the Clinton administration that had the benefit of being crafted through compromise.

I find myself agreeing with much of what Zakaria says and especially his call for a return to a "liberal democracy" with representative institutions as the founders intended. There is good reason to craft a system where cooler heads can debate and compromise. All the more so as the electorate becomes less educated and the issues become more complex (how can I as a citizen know that 40% is the right amount to spend on education, why not 37%?). This book also has just the right amount of counterintuitiveness to be on the mark. Zakaria also mentions the books Paradise Lost by Peter Shrag and Democracy Derailed by David Broder which likely illuminate this topic in more detail. If only there were time to read all the books....

No comments: