Fiscal liberalism has tarnished California gold
By George F. Will
Sunday, January 10, 2010
Dalton Trumbo (1905-76) was a hero to the American left, partly because of his 1939 antiwar novel "Johnny Got His Gun." Trumbo's title modified the lyric "Johnny, get your gun" from the World War I song "Over There." Trumbo's "Johnny" is horribly maimed in that war. Now we need a novel titled "Berkeley Got Its Liberalism." Pending that, we have Tad Friend's report, in the Jan. 4 New Yorker, on maimed Berkeley.
California, a laboratory of liberalism, is spiraling downward, driven by a huge budget deficit. So the University of California system's budget was cut 20 percent. Then the system increased in-state student fees 32 percent to . . . $10,302. But that is still 70 percent below student costs at Stanford and other private institutions in California that Berkeley considers no better than it is.
In September, Friend reports, 5,000 Berkeley employees and students rallied in Sproul Plaza, scene of protests that ignited the 1960s and helped make Ronald Reagan governor. Some protesters, says Friend, were "naked except for signs that read 'BUDGET TRANSPARENCY.' " At an indoor meeting, a "student facilitator" used a projection screen to summarize proposals, which included: "rolling strikes"; "nationalize all universities"; "socialist revolution"; "a tent city in Sacramento"; "create a shadow Board of Regents"; "occupy Wells Fargo Bank in downtown Oakland"; "worker-student control of the university"; "strike in March"; "act now, [expletive] March"; "capitalism is bad." Toward the end of the seven-hour meeting, participants shouted "General strike! General strike!"
In its impact on the institution, and on students trying to grip the lower rungs of the ladder of social mobility, the UC system's crisis is sad. This academic year, only one-sixth of the normal number of new faculty have been hired at Berkeley. The Cal State system -- a cut below the UC campuses -- will enroll 40,000 fewer students this year than last. But because the professoriate is overwhelmingly liberal, there is rough justice in its having to live with liberalism's consequences, which include this:
Kevin Starr, author of an eight-volume -- so far -- history of the (formerly) Golden State, says that California is "on the verge" of becoming something without an American precedent: "a failed state." William Voegeli, writing in the Claremont Review of Books, tartly says that "Rome wasn't sacked in a day, and California didn't become Argentina overnight." Indeed.
It took years for liberalism's redistributive itch to create an income tax so steeply progressive that it prompts the flight from the state of wealth-creators: "Between 1990 and 2007," Voegeli writes, "some 3.4 million more Americans moved from California to one of the other 49 states than moved to California from another state."
And the state's income tax -- liberalism codified -- intensifies the effects of business cycles on the state's revenue stream: During booms, the stream surges and stimulates government spending; during contractions, revenue dwindles, but the new government spending continues. Voegeli says that if California's spending had grown no faster than population growth and inflation from 1992 to 2006, it would have been $65 billion less in 2006, and per capita government outlays then would have equaled not those of Somalia or Mississippi but of Oregon, which is hardly "a hellish paradigm of Social Darwinism."
It took years for liberalism's mania for micromanaging life with entangling regulations to make California's once-creative economy resemble Gulliver immobilized by the Lilliputians' many threads. The state, which between 1990 and 2007 lost 26 percent of its factory jobs and 35 percent of its high-tech manufacturing jobs, ranks behind only New York, another of liberalism's laboratories, in the number of outward-bound moving vans.
It took years for compassionate liberalism to make California's welfare menu contribute to the state becoming an importer of Mexico's poverty. It took years for servile liberalism to turn the state into what Voegeli calls a "unionocracy," run by and for unionized public employees, such as public safety employees who can retire at 50 and receive 90 percent of the final year's pay for life.
Friend reports that when the seven-hour meeting ended, the protest moved to the UC president's house. Two buses carried "some hundred Berkeley students and members of AFSCME." Perfect.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees is one reason California's government employees -- their numbers grew 24 percent between 1997 and 2007 -- are the nation's most highly compensated. And why California's economy is being suffocated by the weight of government. And why the state's budget has little left over for Berkeley.