Looking For Trumbo: California’s Basket-Case Economy

George Will crafts quite a descriptive metaphor for California’s failing economy:

Dalton Trumbo (1905-1976) was a hero to the American left, partly because of his 1939 anti-war 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.

Last 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, f— March”; “capitalism is bad.” Toward the end of the seven-hour meeting, participants shouted “General strike! General strike!”

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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 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.”

It’s a great column, and well worth reading, but in many ways, it’s an update of this column from 2003 by Ann Coulter. Less snark (and no blue jeans allowed!), and the feckless governor now has a nominal (R) after his name instead of a (D), but the same out of control spending, top-down government control over the economy and small business, and the same population outflow from California to its neighboring states remain. “For four years, more Americans have moved out of California than have moved in”, Will writes, dubbing Governor Schwarzenegger “the best governor the states next to California have ever had.”

Unfortunately, as the more fiscally prudent of California’s residents and businesses depart, the likely scenario, as is occurring in other blue states such as New York and New Jersey, is a reduction in the middle class households, and growing extremes of the very wealthy and very poor. (A particular problem in California thanks to its look-the-other-way mindset in regards to illegal immigration.)

I’d like to be wrong, but this doesn’t look like a problem that will resolve itself soon, no matter who the next governor is, or what party he belongs to.

In 2003, Coulter wrote:

Far be it from me to tell Republicans to stop enjoying the Democrats’ pain, but California is about to fall into the ocean.

Either Schwarzenegger will dismantle the government employees’ Versailles Palace, or California will continue to be a laboratory for failed liberal policies.

Since he didn’t, the result is what Will describes today. Expect a similar column from another Cassandra-esque conservative or libertarian pundit in a few years time.

(And for a look back at Dalton Trumbo himself, the Oliver Stone of his time — except with far better chops as a screenwriter — click here.)

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