More simple choices

Meg Whitman tells lies just for practice.

Meg Whitman, the failed corporate bureaucrat now running for Governor of California despite her lack of any qualification for the job, is running on lies, and her campaign regards the idea that it should stop telling lies as “ridiculous.” I’m no Jerry Brown fan, but it’s not hard to figure out which candidate to vote for.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

9 thoughts on “More simple choices”

  1. I've been saying for two decades that Jerry Brown will be proved correct about pretty much the whole Big Picture. He is absolutely a fitting candidate for California's problems of Today.

  2. I'm not sure I understand the claim here. Is the Brown campaign, backed by the state, claiming that tax revenues as a percentage of income fell, so therefore taxes fell? Because if that's the claim, well, I can't imagine anyone stupid enough to think that's meaningful. I suppose Brown gets credit for saying this with a straight face. That, and getting Mark to endorse him as he runs on his support for Prop 13.

  3. Thomas, Whitman is using a clip from a 1992 primary debate in which candidate Bill Clinton cited a monumentally flawed CNN report that managed to use the number from two years before Brown's first budget as being representative of taxes under Brown. The question of how to measure the tax burden doesn't even enter into it – regardless of how they crunched the numbers, they were using the wrong ones. We should be glad they got the numbers for the right state.

    That said, of course it's not wacky to think measuring the tax burden per dollar of income is meaningful. How would you recommend it be done? You can't just measure total revenue, you have to adjust it for inflation, changes in population, and changes in the economy. I don't know enough to know whether a simple taxes-per-dollar measurement is the best available option, but it's a completely standard way to assess the tax burden.

    Meg Whitman's campaign doesn't bother to defend their options, but I suppose they'd basically have to rest their defense on their belief that it's OK to dishonestly repeat someone else's repetition of yet a third party's mistaken analysis. Because we all know how much the Republicans trust Bill Clinton, especially in full-on campaign mode.

    That said, Thomas did get one thing right that either Richard Crews either was unaware or that Richard Crews holds a position on with which I vehemently disagree: far from being "correct about pretty much the whole Big Picture" Jerry Brown was indeed an enthusiastic backer of the dreadful Proposition 13. Prop 13 was a horrible, horrible bill that guarantees that California can't pass budgets, that corporations don't pay property taxes (or rather, they pay property taxes on 1973 land valuations; so do people, if they owned the home long enough, but people die and people move, and corporations don't have to), and that an artificial scarcity of property (because of tax disincentives for selling) does its very best to ensure recurring property bubbles in the denser parts of California (although it does perhaps make renting easier). Ironically, given his enduring "Governor Moonbeam" image, which was after all about his behavior and not his policies, in office Jerry Brown was a Blue Dog of the worst sort.

  4. Both Thomas and Warren Terra are both incorrect.

    Brown ran for governor pledging he would not, like Ronald Reagan before him, raise state general taxes, and according to David Doerr's history of California taxes, published by the California Taxpayers' Association, "There were to be no significant 'general' tax increases during his eight years as governor." Brown pushed for, and eventual won, the elimination of the property tax on business inventories. He signed bills lowering income taxes for low-income taxpayers and partially indexing the income tax for inflation, and he vetoed bills that hiked taxes on alcoholic beverages. (He also vetoed pay hikes for state employees, only to be overriden by the legislature.) The only tax increases of note during his governorship were, in fact, user fees: a fee on telephone bills to fund the new 911 emergency telephone system and a one-penny increase in fuel taxes, which was implemented after he left office and didn't even keep fuel tax collections level with inflation. On net, he was a tax cutter, as the state's numbers show, and a skinflint on spending. He was, it's fair to say, the most fiscally conservative governor of the last half century.

    Brown, however, did not support Prop 13. Like the California Taxpayers' Association, Chamber of Commerce, Business Roundtable, and most Republican politicians, including George Deukmejian and Pete Wilson, the men who would follow him as governor, he opposed the Jarvis-Gann initiative before it was passed. Once it was passed, he did an about-face so abruptly that he became known as "Jerry Jarvis" and received Howard Jarvis' endorsement for his 1978 reelection. Where Brown can be faulted is for making Prop 13 necessary. Like many other elected officials in that era, he was slow to understand the impact of rising home prices and property tax bills. He was so concerned to cut the business inventory tax and to preserve the state's budget surplus, he did resisted efforts in the legislature to help homeowners in sensible ways; that failure of leadership left the property tax issue to Howard Jarvis and his blugeon.

  5. Mark Paul,

    I invite you to read Joe Matthews's cover story from last September's issue of The American Prospect. The author claims that Brown was a big fan of the narratives that drove Prop 13, before (as you admit) he was eventually an enthusiastic supporter of Prop 13.

  6. I'm well aware of Joe's article. He's co-author, with me, of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It. His American Prospect piece says the same thing I said above. Jerry opposed tax increases and was a skinflint on spending. He also failed to lead in the face of the property tax crisis.

    But it's wrong to say that Prop 13 was driven by "narratives." It was driven by a terrible reality. Property taxes were out of control and hurting California. Liberals and citizen groups had been saying so for more than a decade. When the state's leaders couldn't find a solution, in part because of California' supermajority rules, voters turned to the solution offered by Howard Jarvis. Our book tells the story and explains the consequences.

  7. While I'm very much not a Whitman fan, the claim of her being a failed corporate exec needs a little support. Carly fits the bill, but Meg doesn't seem to me to be the same. But I'm interested in being educated….

  8. Meg ran eBay in a completely shortsighted and cynical manner. While the initial business model was nearly unstoppable, her only concept of innovation was "raise listing prices." This burned through most of the customer goodwill, and let people like Amazon and Craigslist make massive inroads into eBay's core market. Then there was the incredibly pointless acquisition and subsequent sale of Skype. She might not be quite as bad as Carly, but "failed" is more than reasonable.

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