California: Still Ahead of the Curve
Few Golden Staters would deny that California has a tendency to believe itself the center of the universe. But even they would be impressed by the California-centrism on display in Ryan Avent's post outlining the difficulties facing a third stimulus package. Avent thinks that California is "the huge obstacle" to getting a third stimulus passed. "California is the state in the worst shape, and it’s also the state no one wants to help, because its problems stem from terrible institutions and a horribly dysfunctional government," he writes. "They’re not just cyclically screwed; they worked very hard to get themselves into this mess, and the rest of America, quite reasonably, doesn’t want to bail them out."
This doesn't make very much sense. The "rest of America" is probably about as clear on the structural dysfunctions of the Golden State's government as I am on what made the Real Housewives of New Jersey so very mad this week. Rather, the reason the country is unlikely to pass a third stimulus is much the same reason that California is having trouble pulling out of its nosedive, and much the same reason that California didn't fix its structural problems sooner and, for that matter, much the same reason that the country didn't address its structural economic problems sooner: a legislative process biased toward inaction combined with a relentless rise in political polarization.
Passing a third stimulus would be hard under normal circumstances. But does anyone doubt that it is much harder under the 60-vote requirement (the same requirement that lopped $100 billion off the original stimulus)? And that it will prove virtually impossible as the 2010 election nears and GOP consultants convince Republican lawmakers that their only hope is a weak economy that sours the public on Barack Obama? California isn't standing between us and the policies that would ensure our future. It is our future.
To put it another way, every wonk in Washington -- conservative or liberal -- will tell you that health-care costs threaten to bankrupt the nation. But it is proving virtually impossible to get serious health-care reform through a Senate that requires 60 votes to overcome the filibuster. Eventually, that inability to address hard, obvious problems will trigger a fiscal crisis, just as it has done in California. The conceit behind Californian exceptionalism -- and I say this as a native -- is that we are ahead of the curve. That's true in fashion, it's true in culture, and I'd wager it will prove true in fiscal crises.
Photo credit: AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli.
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