A letter to my students

Welcome to Berkeley, probably still the best public university in the world. Meet your classmates, the best group of partners you can find anywhere.  The percentages for grades on exams, papers, etc. in my courses always add up to 110% because that’s what I’ve learned to expect from you, over twenty years in the best job in the world.

That’s the good news.  The bad news is that you have been the victims of a terrible swindle, denied an inheritance you deserve by contract and by your merits.  And you aren’t the only ones; victims of this ripoff include the students who were on your left and on your right in high school but didn’t get into Cal, a whole generation stiffed by mine.  This letter is an apology, and more usefully, perhaps a signal to start demanding what’s been taken from you so you can pass it on with interest.

Swindle–what happened? Well, before you were born, Californians now dead or in nursing homes made a remarkable deal with the future.  (Not from California? Keep reading, lots of this applies to you, with variations.) They agreed to invest money they could have spent on bigger houses, vacations, clothes, and cars into the world’s greatest educational system, and into building and operating water systems, roads, parks, and other public facilities, an infrastructure that was the envy of the world. They didn’t get everything right: too much highway and not enough public transportation. But they did a pretty good job.

Young people who enjoyed these ‘loans’ grew up smarter, healthier, and richer than they otherwise would have, and understood that they were supposed to “pay it forward” to future generations, for example by keeping the educational system staffed with lots of dedicated, well-trained teachers, in good buildings and in small classes, with college counselors and up-to-date books.  California schools had physical education, art for everyone, music and theater, buildings that looked as though people cared about them, modern languages and ancient languages, advanced science courses with labs where the equipment worked, and more. They were the envy of the world, and they paid off better than Microsoft stock. Same with our parks, coastal zone protection, and social services.

This deal held until about thirty years ago, when for a variety of reasons, California voters realized that while they had done very well from the existing contract, they could do even better by walking away from their obligations and spending what they had inherited on themselves.  “My kids are finished with school; why should I pay taxes for someone else’s?  Posterity never did anything for me!”  An army of fake ‘leaders’ sprang up to pull the moral and fiscal wool over their eyes, and again and again, your parents and their parents lashed out at government (as though there were something else that could replace it) with tax limits, term limits, safe districts, throw-away-the-key imprisonment no matter the cost, smoke-and-mirrors budgeting, and a rule never to use the words taxes and services in the same paragraph.

Now, your infrastructure is falling to pieces under your feet, and as citizens you are responsible for crudities like closing parks, and inhumanities like closing battered women’s shelters. It’s outrageous, inexcusable, that you can’t get into the courses you need, but much worse that Oakland police have stopped taking 911 calls for burglaries and runaway children. If you read what your elected officials say about the state today, you’ll see things like “California can’t afford” this or that basic government function, and that “we need to make hard choices” to shut down one or another public service, or starve it even more (like your university). Can’t afford? The budget deficit that’s paralyzing Sacramento is about $500 per person; add another $500 to get back to a public sector we don’t have to be ashamed of, and our average income is almost forty times that.  Of course we can afford a government that actually works: the fact is that your parents have simply chosen not to have it.

I’m writing this to you because you are the victims of this enormous cheat (though your children will be even worse off if you don’t take charge of this ship and steer it). Your education was trashed as California fell to the bottom of US states in school spending, and the art classes, AP courses, physical education, working toilets, and teaching generally went by the board. Every year I come upon more and more of you who have obviously never had the chance to learn to write plain, clear, English.  Every year, fewer and fewer of you read newspapers, speak a foreign language, understand the basics of how government and business actually work, or have the energy to push back intellectually against me or against each other. Or know enough about history, literature, and science to do it effectively!  You spent your school years with teachers paid less and less, trained worse and worse, loaded up with more and more mindless administrative duties, and given less and less real support from administrators and staff.

Many of your parents took a hike as well, somehow getting the idea that the schools had taken over their duties to keep you learning, or so beat-up working two jobs each and commuting two hours a day to put food on the table that they couldn’t be there for you. A quarter of your classmates didn’t finish high school, discouraged and defeated; but they didn’t leave the planet, even if you don’t run into them in the gated community you will be tempted to hide out in.  They have to eat just like you, and they aren’t equipped to do their share of the work, so you will have to support them.

You need to have a very tough talk with your parents, who are still voting; you can’t save your children by yourselves.  Equally important, you need to start talking to each other.  It’s not fair, and you have every reason (except a good one) to keep what you can for yourselves with another couple of decades of mean-spirited tax-cutting and public sector decline. You’re my heroes just for surviving what we put you through and making it into my classroom, but I’m asking for more: you can be better than my generation. Take back your state for your kids and start the contract again.  There are lots of places you can start, for example, building a transportation system that won’t enslave you for two decades as their chauffeur, instead of raising fares and cutting routes in a deadly helix of mediocrity.  Lots. Get to work.  See you in class!

UPDATE: Like your political science in musical form? Here’s the way people thought about this stuff back in the day, and maybe should again. Bet there’s a good rap along these lines waiting to be born…

UPDATE 2: Bob Reich adds  insight here.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

106 thoughts on “A letter to my students”

  1. This professor is not very logical. He says the grades in his classes add up to 110% "because that’s what I’ve learned to expect from you," trying to make it sound as though he does this because the students are so good. But making the possible scores add up to 110% is a way of making the grading *easier* (assuming that the cutoff for an A stays at 90%, a B at 80%, etc.). So if he does that, it must be because the students are *not* so good.

    I think he's using a rhetorical trick to make Berkeley students feel good, which he hopes will get them on his side for the rest of the editorial. And I think the rest of the editorial is mainly rhetoric, too. There is very little in the way of reasoning. I hope Berkeley students are able to notice that, although from my own time at Berkeley, I'm not sure they are.

  2. A very interesting set of videos titled "First to Worst" that can be found on youtube these days, were produced several years ago now and attempt to describe what has happened to public schooling in California since the mid '70's. No one it seems denies the assertion that something has gone horribly wrong with them. The assertions of the producers of these films are that cultural, and economic changes have had significant affects on schooling. they also assert that passage of Prop 13 is a significant contributing factor to the problem. They do not seem to assert that the problem with 13 though is that it has dramatically reduced funds available to educate our children today, but they make another point that if reversed might in fact alter the direction of education in our state and end up costing us no more than our present levels. That solution is not to pound the unions and reduce pension payouts to teachers, it is not to rollback the attempts to educate those with disabilities and who come to our schools speaking one of the several hundred other languages than the dominant, the solution pointed to in these films is to remove the less talked about provisions of the proposition. Specifically stop sending the tax money out of the local area to a centralized government bureaucracy that eats up the dollars in administration. Leave the tax revenues in the communities that generate them leave the job of equitable distribution to the communities most directly affected, and gut the California Departement of Education with its huge payroll, and overhead costs.

    I agree with this philosophy, in that the time has come to de-centralize the locus of power and wrest the purse from those who hold it now.

  3. Heed Professor Michael O'Hare's opinion and advice, as they are honest and highly accurate.

    Please act now to convince our fellow american citizens of the blind and misguided error of their ways. I have failed spectacularly in my own efforts, and now no longer live in the country which I love, and swear my allegiance to.

    I am a Republican, a conservative, a believer in limited government, and a parent to this current generation now entering college, and I have much to regret.

    I lived in the "silicon valley" of California from 1979 – 1984 and again from 1988 – 1993.

    Upon my first arrival, my first year of high school, I was in for a terrible shock, to find having left a first world schooling to arrive in a 2nd world dilapidated school system.

    Prop 103, and the likewise self centered legislation were the cause of this precipitous decline.

    Yes, we were indeed blinded by charismatic personalities such as Ronald Reagan. I believe in hard work, and looking out for others less fortunate, and investing in my community.

    I am proud of my country, proud to be an american citizen, proud of the majority of its hard working and deeply caring people. I however, am revolted by the state and federal governments of the past 30 years.

    A government that largely reflects the will of a small number (however a majority loyal voting group) blind and ignorant, shrill, largely self centered and mean spirited people. These are members of my own political party, and largely conservatives in the Democratic Party.

    I have been very fortunate to travel widely across the globe for business purposes. I have been in nearly all of the "great cities" of the world.

    I was shocked and surprised to find several countries with far better quality of life than that which I found in the U.S., thus began my "great awakening education" as to the cause of the ills of our great nation. I looked in the mirror and found myself to blame. I spent the next 3 years attempting to convince ANY of my fellow (majority voting) U.S. citizens in the error of their ways. Having spectacularly failed to do so, I packed up our family and moved to a new country.

    I left the U.S. 8 years ago, with my wife and 3 children, to move to Vienna, Austria (ranked for 2 years in a row as the best city in the world).

    The tax rate for the average middle class citizen here is 50 %. It is the closest thing to heaven, one can find on this earth. I do not mind at all, paying far more in taxes, as I can clearly see the benefits of doing so.

    As an american, as a conservative republican, I suffer a continuing Cognitive Dissonance, unable to resolve the seemingly incompatible simultaneous support of aspects of the SPÖ, the Social Party of Austria. The evil socialism, which as americans we were raised to believe, was so thoroughly "UN-American", and threatened america. I have seen the centrist socialist ideals succeed here in Austria, where right wing conservatism has clearly failed america.

    Austria also has a small shrill, bigoted, and self centered group of people like those who ultimately dethroned america's prosperity. They are known as the FPÖ, the so called "freedom party of Austria", and their brethren the BZÖ, and their sympathizers in the ÖVP. However these people are but a small (however growing) minority of the voting group.

    Left unchallenged, they shall ultimately destroy the Austria they claim to want to preserve. I do my best to educate all Austrians that these persons are misguided, and show them the United States as proof of the fate which certainly awaits them, if they remain on their self destructive course of politics.

    Vienna is a social democratic city. As an American, I find it largely balanced. People have good jobs, guaranteed high quality healthcare (socialized medicine), and provide nearly free (300 euros per semester) higher education. The society takes care of its most needy of citizens.

    Yes they have entirely too much bureaucracy, and yes the politicians are highly paid (far more than in the US), however surprisingly as a result they are largely honest and uncorrupted persons.

    Austria has an unemployment rate of 4.7 percent vs 9.6 for the US.


    Please act now to restore america's greatness, pride, and respect in the world.


    Joseph Mangan

  4. The US as a whole has infrastructure problems everywhere, not just education. You will go the way of Rome if you keep heeding the calls of the 'deficit hawks'. What a pity the very mindset that led away from spending in these areas is the same mindset that caused the financial crisis. Just like elements of "cry baby capitalism".

    Structurally deficient bridges, networks of piping that need replacing…you are living on infrastructure from the 1970s.

    And this is before we even come to the wealth polarisation and education issues. Oh, and why the hell is health care tied up with the job you have? WTF kind of screwed up idea is that? Healthcare reform is vital.

    Good luck but it appears that the politics of individualism and rampant selfishness have taken over. There is no other word for it.


    An international observer

  5. It's very clear that the one percent who own 34% of American wealth don't like to be pay their fair share. To avoid it, they have duped average citizens into believing that the word tax is inherently bad. Retaining right wing talk show hosts who spew misleading and emotional misrepresentation of facts is just one method they can afford. Approximately 35% ownership can provide effective control of a corporation, and that One Percent essentially own and control media. Through contributions to right, they control the political process and how little they are taxed. This is true for western economies in general. Tit-for-tat taxation policies need to be addressed on a global scale.

    Being compassionate, the remaining 99% were conned–they were not simply greedy. They were convinced through paid advertising, product placement and talk show hosts that eating takeout fries on a sit-down lawnmower gave meaning to their lives. Sure, that tractor gave their butts more good vibrations in the present. Future rewards for having supported education, a robust and sustainable power grid or public transport systems doesn't induce neighbor envy. That One Percent caused solar panels on the White House to be removed, when there was enough time to shift energy sources and avoid wars. Average Americans are now expected to pay national debt for later oil wars and now they have bailed out their banker agents. While they convinced politicians to borrow big time, they also convinced too many that taxes to pay for common needs are inherently evil. There is very little room to pay for common needs or research because of gigantic debt to prop up the wealthy. It's time to realize that a generation didn't just avoid taxes to buy disposable, toxic and shiny things, but they were duped.

    Our only hope is that today's students become highly politically active, looking after our common needs for now and for their children. It's important to believe that shared, sustainable well-being is still possible. We must address the one real problem religion on this planet–a financial code that controls political thinking about words like tax, inflation and interest, and guarantees debt slavery for the rest of us. Absolutely any proposition for change is immediately labeled with another scare word used by the right–socialism–stated with simplistic McCarthy tone. The big fear about socialism is that it provides money to those who don't earn it. We already have that result by a different name, and it primarily benefits One Percent. There is no shortage of money or ability to create sustainable well-being for all. This change does not need to come through wars of the past after future economic collapse. We can induce change through positive action and a willingness to re-frame thinking that clearly is working against all of us–including the One Percent.

    Thank you so much for posting this brilliant invitation to today's students to wake up and take responsibility for our future, because only they can.

  6. As the father of a UC-Berkeley student, the husband of a California public school teacher and the father of a Teach For America alum who worked in the Richmond school district, let me suggest that all this focus on ideology misses several important points. Are we allocating the resources we have wisely? Are we looking for creative solutions to difficult problems? Are we rewarding the behavior we want to see? I suspect not, pretty much across the board.

    For example, I am absolutely in favor of providing "second chances." I absolutely support the ideal of providing a place where high school graduates who may not be ready for a place like UC-Berkeley can get prepared to enroll there. In my judgment, the mission of the California community college system is a noble one and one that ought to be continued. But any fair assessment of that system must also conclude that it's a mess. According to research performed under the auspices of the Institute for Higher Education Leadership and Policy at CSU Sacramento, only 24% of students entering a JC to seek a certificate, get a degree or transfer to a four-year school accomplish their goal within a six-year period (and it’s only 14.5% of total students). Yet a community college education remains remarkably inexpensive. We're paying a very high price for surprisingly little return. Moreover, and more importantly, many community colleges are replete with students of means who have always had tremendous opportunities available to them who are wasting their time (and taxpayer dollars) there. Why should taxpayers provide — essentially for free — second, third and more chances to students with means and opportunity galore who have consistently refused to make good academic and educational choices while, at the same time, charging students who have made the best choices higher and higher prices and prices that are, by far, the highest in the system? Is it too radical to suggest the our UCs charge prices more like what community colleges charge (to reward student acheivement, to keep more of our best students "home" and to ease the financial burden on these students and their families) and that community colleges charge prices more like what the UCs charge for those who can afford them? It seems to me that the same amount of money could be put to much better use.

  7. (Copying my comment from http://blogs.berkeley.edu/2010/08/24/a-letter-to-

    I copied the following figures from the comment at http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1631794

    1965-1966: $4B nominal ($28B, constant 2010 dollars)

    1982-1983: $25.3B nominal ($57.2B)

    2008-2009: $144B ($145)

    2009-2010: $119.2B ($119.2B)

    According to the comment thread, the state population increased from 15 717 204 in 1960 to 36 961 664 in 2010, which figures I assume are from the census.

    My own calculations: that's about 1.7% population growth per year on average (1.017^50 * 15717204 ≈ 36 500 000) so we can interpolate the population in 1966 as 15717204 * 1.017^6 ≈ 17 400 000. That gives a state tax burden of roughly US$1610 per person in constant 2010 dollars. The 2009–2010 tax burden is US$3200 per person.

    Therefore, at least over the 1966 to 2010 time period, if these figures are correct, then far from being the victims of an "enormous cheat" or "terrible swindle" in which state taxes were cut to the bone by a generation supported by state taxes, necessitating massive cuts in public services, state taxes per capita have nearly doubled during that period, adjusted for inflation using the CPI.

    Some other possibilities were suggested in the comment thread:

    • Maybe the CPI isn't the right deflator to use, because most of the state's revenues go to education and health care, not vegetables and beef, and these services have inflated in price much faster than the CPI. However, this doesn't rescue the "terrible swindle … walking away from their obligations" claim.

    • Maybe O'Hare isn't referring to public services as they were provided in California during the 1960s but during some earlier period, such as the 1940s. Prof. O'Hare, can you clarify your claims?

    • Maybe most of the tax money is being wasted on unproductive things such as prisons, managers and administrators, or legislators, rather than being spent on productive things like public education and road maintenance. In this case, there is a "terrible swindle", but the perpetrators are not the voters or the taxpayers but the employees of the government.

    • Maybe much of the high standard of living some decades ago was paid for by externalities. For example, power plants might have been less expensive to operate before the EPA was established, K-12 schools might have had higher quality when economic opportunities for women outside of them were sharply limited by institutionalized sexism, US military power might have kept the prices of many raw materials artificially low, and unsustainable depletion of fossil fuels might have kept the prices of energy and asphalt artificially low. As some of these externalities have been internalized, taxes would have to rise. For example, to attract the best and brightest women to teaching in K-12 education, the way we used to in the 1950s and 1960s, we'd either need a massive propaganda campaign about the nobility and importance of teachers (comparable to the one we have about soldiers), or we'd need to pay top K-12 teachers US$200 000 a year or more — with a credible commitment to continue to do so for half a century into the future.

    So, on the face of it, the numbers don't seem to add up to support your claim. Can you help out with that?

    Other comments related to this question include http://www.samefacts.com/2010/08/education-policy… which seems to not be using the same facts as the commenter whose figures I quoted above.

    The California Budget Project's summary gives a lower number of US$86.8 billion for 2009-10, which is still much larger than the inflation-adjusted per-capita 1966 number: http://cbp.org/pdfs/2010/CaliforniaBudgetBites/10

  8. Great letter. I just posted it on my office door. But I wish that you had also mentioned the cuts to the CSU and community-college systems. Berkeley may be the jewel in the crown, but the whole crown matters. It is the CSU system that has helped California's working-class hope to enter the middle-class. It is the CSU students who have less of a safety net than most Berkeley kids. And it is the CSU system that has a narrower margin for cutbacks.

  9. Another liberal attitude of supporting increased taxes and the growth of government involvement in our lives. The generation he's speaking didn't do everything bad….look who sent men to the moon, developed the PC and cell phones, created rock and roll, created ways to grow bountiful fields of food, developed vaccines and medicines to wipe out entire diseases. Please inspire the youth to greatness and to be responsible for their own growth and success. Make them understand that there's better material to read than a comment on Facebook or in a text message. Inspire to creativity rather than to be dependent and walk around w/ a chip on their shoulder.

  10. What are you smoking? Kids today don't "know a foreign language?" Au contraire, mon ami: they don't know English. According to the US Census more than half of households in Los Angeles county speak a language "other than English" at home.

    Anyway, all the stuff you say is missing now, like parks and new textbooks has been sacrificed to higher pay for bureaucrats (including unionized teachers and school administrators who take as salaries every single dime that California school districts above the absolute barrel-scraping minimum to pay the light bill). California taxes are higher than ever, state spending is higher than ever (as percentage of state domestic product and as fraction of in-state household incomes as well as in absolute terms), pay for state and local government employees including grossly excessive pensions is higher than ever. The problem is that state spending doesn't go to the services you prefer, it all goes into the pockets of government employees and their cronies.

    When you start complaining that the state wastes money on utter boondoggles like "high speed rail" and $500 MILLION high schools in L.A. instead of bitching that overtaxed voters don't want to fund any more $400,000 salary water-district administrators, then we'll take you seriously.

  11. Please don't take down the discussion as requested by LG. While I wish the tones could be moderated, we find ourselves here with a great forum for debate. More intellect and less bravado would be great from both sides – but really, what a great discussion. Thanks for the original letter and thanks to all who have provided impassioned responses.

  12. Excellent letter. Speaking of infrastructure falling to pieces under our feet, several states can no longer afford to even pave roads and are turning them to gravel:

    Roads to Ruin: Towns Rip Up the Pavement

    I mean, seriously. This is in the United States of America in the 21st century.

    I have very wealthy family members, and know that they can definitely afford to pay Clinton-era federal taxes. This would amount to less than 5 percent of their income. Trust me, they would not miss it. As for the trickle-down effect of their higher take-home pay…well, multiple homes, deluxe home upgrades, trips overseas, new luxury cars every 2 years, and shopping trips galore contribute nothing towards maintaining the infrastructure outside their high-end neighborhoods. I love my family and I'm very happy about their success, but there is something very wrong with this picture in an advanced society. Our continued collective failure to invest in the greater good is penny-wise and pound-foolish.

  13. In direct response to Truth as well as "Sick" and others of similar persuasions:

    Coming from a Republican home, it's usually quite difficult for me to outrightly speak against obdurate right-wing conservatives, given my own moderate Liberal tendencies. But I can't help but share that I find it intellectually and politically interesting the convenient mypoia your politics adorn you with. Firstly, Truth cites the lack of "pre-agreed" merits or contracts when the retroactive fabulous our forefathers used to craft this nation-state's existence hearken to and found themselves upon notions of inalienable Truths to the effect of "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness." Though found in the Declaration, these same principles of promoting the General Welfare (which was purposefully left vague as the General Welfare of the nation-state shifts as per the need needs of each age and generation contingent upon domestic and international political economy. In fact, the crafters outlined the needs and constitutional duties of governmental oversight and regulation on Commerce, the CONSTITUTIONALITY and REQUIREMENT of taxation, and the promotion and provision of science and art for the nation's citizens (reference the Powers of the Legislative Branch).

    Now, concerning the acerbic assertions "Sick" holds about taxation, I argue this: Taxation is a MUST that you cannot ignore. You can lobby your representatives about where it is allocated, but even those pleas cannot surmount the established routes and sectors money MUST be allocated to. Revenue should be invested in the revitalization of educational institutions and pursuits in our Golden State because it HAS to be. Here's a document that might shed some illumination: http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/.const/.article_9 . That there is Article 9 of our CA Constitution and it deals with the Provisions for the FREE PUBLIC EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM for our state. Now a caveat is that some of these provisions and sections are indubitably incongruous with the times and thus have amendments (I.E. inflation, IDEA provisions, district budget increases vs. state deficits). However, it stands to be reckoned, that YES there are pre-ordained contracts that our current (or, rather, YOUR generation) may have been unaware of, and your lack of awareness does nothing to negate the stalwart TRUTH of our state's contractual (and, arguably, ethical) responsibility for revenue-generation in order to sustain the EDUCATION of our citizens (and non-citizens, but nonetheless labor-force participants, thanks to AB-540).

    Not the most in-depth of retorts as that would require a lengthy dissertation; however, I hope I've provided some food for thought because it strikes me as crude how folks conveniently forget the historic precedent documents like state and federal Constitutions offer.

  14. The Problem with devout Libertarians

    @ Ms. "Sick of hands on my pockets"

    You all want to live on your own islands. Be responsible solely for yourselves.

    But you neglect to appreciate the interconnectedness of us all.

    We (you) live as part of a society…Like it or not!

    You trade with others. Do you grow your own food?

    You shop for goods and services, allowing you to provide for your husband and kids.

    You rely on others for your Defense.

    You can attempt to stay on your own island, growing your own food, but what if your neighbor 100 miles away with whom you never converse pees into the ground and polutes your soil because he has no toilet?

    A simple analogy, but it uncovers the basic flaw in any devout Libertarian argument. We are all as people on this same planet NECESSARILY interconnected. Even though you can try and try to live alone, caring only for yourself.

    If there are sick, uneducated, penniless people around you,

    you will have no one to sell widgets to, and no one to buy your widgets from.

    And that will ultimately make you just a pauper with pee in your water.


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  16. Born & raised in LA, Educated in the 60's; watched Ronnie Reagan lead California into debt and double the size of government; watched it since decline into a bickering morass since. Where has common sense and visionary leadership gone, and why can't we learn to stay away from overspending our heritage?

    California + Top Heavy Government = "A good place to be from."

  17. I see a trend. It is very easy for you to refute "Sick of hands in my pockets" – that response was emotionally based without much in the way of facts.

    However, very few of you tend to take on the comments of Ron Bischof, who has made some very solid, unemotional, fact based assertions. Please don't use the strawman, @Sick, debate the merits of fact and your arguments will stand much better – if indeed they can stand the fire of fact.

  18. Californians already pay higher taxes than in any other state, and you believe the solution is to RAISE them even higher? Our state government is clearly dysfunctional, and raising taxes only delays having to deal with the real problems the state faces.

  19. Social Engineering. During the 60's and 70's California political people tried to prove that "all men are created equal" by pursing the noble goal of equal results in the lives of all citizens. It was believed that "created equal" meant that everyone should have the same thing. The only way that a person might have more material wealth than another is that he/she stole it from a person who doesn't have as much…. this injustice needs to be corrected. So decades of social engineering programs that have bankrupted local, state and national governments. Failure to realize that material success comes from ability, integrity, work ethic, intelligence, judgment, energy and self-motivation. So, now we continue to "redistribute" the wealth of the nation through a variety of entitlements with the assumption that the government money tree will forever have ripe fruit to pick. Yes— times are rough in places like California because the adults of the 60's, 70's, 80's and 90's assumed that the bubble would never burst———- just as the auto workers of the same era in Michigan and elsewhere figured that they could have massive wage/benefit raises….. the money tree of General Motors would always be there. Unfortunately— to many of the students at University of California never took nor understood Econ 101's basic principle "we have unlimited wants but a scarcity of resources and as a result we have to make some hard choices on how to best use our capital resources, our human resources and our natural resources." Bottom line— to many California institutions of higher learning had a faculty that consisted of "social engineers" rather than those who understood reality.

  20. The TP (yes, that TP) will finish civilization off. No, it won’t be an apocalypse, but still a pretty rapid slide into the fourth world. Not that we won’t get there anyway, along with everybody else, but the TP will bring it on in your lifetime

  21. "Each person is responsible for THEIR OWN WELL BEING. I reap what I sow."

    If this were true, then why are conservative states inevitably the poorest in the Union? It seems like the relentless economic superiority of liberal-voting states implies that you are simply wrong. The liberal model works better.

    Now, it may be that it's more important to be vicious than to be prosperous. Conservatives are allowed to believe that, of course. But don't dress up selfishness and hate as wealth creation. They are in direct opposition.

  22. @Michael: Hmm…Texas is poor? I'll help you out with the first link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_Texas

    Questions: Which states are experiencing the most dire budgetary challenges and highest rates of unemployment? Which states are net importers of people, businesses and jobs? Which state has the world's busiest airport by passenger traffic?

    I believe you find the answers to these questions illuminating.

  23. Would all of you who don't want any public services, and don't want to pay any taxes, please move to Somalia NOW? And stop screwing up my country. Thank you.

  24. MC, here's a nice rightwing site to poke around in http://www.taxfoundation.org/taxdata/show/335.htm… . California. Five states citizens pay higher state and local taxes than CA (10.5% in 2008) as a percentage of per capita income (US average 9.7%). If you want to just make stuff up, you should be commenting on some other blog. All five have very high per capita incomes…hey, could adequately funding your government help make you rich?…and highly urbanized ones like PA and OH are very close.

    What's more interesting is how narrow the range is; between South Carolina and New York it's less than 4% of per capita income. Arizona is 8.5%: any Californians who would move there (homicide rate 15% higher, divorce rates 10% higher, property crime rate 50% higher, per capita income 40% lower – think you'll keep your California salary when you go?) just for a 2% increase in the _share_ of income you keep are probably no loss. It's not mainly about tax burden, its about spending private and public money as investment (transportation, parks, education) compared to just using it up (prisons that cost a fortune and aren't reducing crime much – see Mark's posts and book on this, too-big houses, too many cars, etc.).

  25. Ron Bischof: Texas' per capita income is about 2.5% below the US average, and 10% below CA. Not poor, but don't let Dallas and Houston fool you. On the average, if you move there, you can expect to keep 2% more of a 10% lower paycheck; I guess this might look like a good deal to someone.

  26. "It’s not mainly about tax burden, its about spending private and public money as investment…".

    It's both, Michael.

    On the one hand, you're right that tax dollars need to be spent well. Unfortunately, there's good evidence that they are not. Indeed, California taxpayers clearly don't think they're getting much bang for their bucks.

    "The biggest factor accounting for California’s loss of population to the other 49 states, bond ratings that would embarrass Chrysler or GM, and state politics contentious and feckless enough to shame a banana republic, has to be its public sector’s diminishing willingness and capacity to fulfill its promises to taxpayers. 'Twenty years ago, you could go to Texas, where they had very low taxes, and you would see the difference between there and California,' Joel Kotkin, executive editor of NewGeography.com and a presidential fellow at Chapman University in Southern California, told the Los Angeles Times this past March. 'Today, you go to Texas, the roads are no worse, the public schools are not great but are better than or equal to ours, and their universities are good. The bargain between California’s government and the middle class is constantly being renegotiated to the disadvantage of the middle class.'"


    However, tax burdens matter too. A study for the American Legislative Exchange Council called "Rich States, Poor States" (by Arthur Laffer, among others, but I haven't seen a reason to question the data) revealed that every single day of the study more than 1,100 people moved from the nine highest income-tax states and relocated mostly to the nine tax-haven states with no income tax. Over these same years the no-income tax states created 89% more jobs and had 32% faster personal income growth than their high-tax counterparts. Indeed, academic studies routinely find clear evidence that high state and local taxes repel jobs and businesses.

    Those who disapprove of tax competition among the states argue that (a) lower taxes creates a zero-sum game whereby states "race to the bottom" and cut services to the poor as taxes fall to zero; and (b) tax cutting inevitably means the starvation of schools and police departments. However, the New Hampshire example suggests otherwise. New Hampshire has no income or sales tax, yet it has high-quality schools and excellent public services. That said, New Hampshire has fewer of the problems inherent in some other states on account of large numbers of the urban poor, crime and the like.

    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleUhttp://www.alec.org/AM/PDF/tax/10RSPS/RSPS2010-Final.pdf http://online.wsj.com/article/SB12426006721482829

  27. "Texas’ per capita income is about 2.5% below the US average, and 10% below CA. Not poor, but don’t let Dallas and Houston fool you. On the average, if you move there, you can expect to keep 2% more of a 10% lower paycheck; I guess this might look like a good deal to someone."

    The Texans argue that the difference is their cost of living. According to them, if I move from San Diego (where I live) to Dallas, my cost of living would be reduced by 43%.


  28. I think the biggest problem is the erosion of trust between the Californian taxpayers and their state government. On the government side, there is a gaping hole in leadership. In particular, nobody has stepped up to point out problems CA is facing and possible options to address them in blunt terms. No sugar-coating, no politically correct mumble-jumble. Lack of trust can result in growing number of cynical taxpayers unwilling to commit to higher taxes, even if the state government sobers up. The worst of it is that taxpayers and their government cannot get a divorce! They are stuck with each other, whether they like it or not, unless some Californians choose to flee. (A bunch of my acquaintances have left CA over the years, but they are still a small minority compared to a much greater number of Californians who are staying put.)

  29. It's interesting to read the 'denial' arguments based on philosophy and disregarding facts. I like it when a prole fights with determination to ensure they stay uneducated and living a low quality lifestyle.

    I'm heading to the private airport now. The less I'm bothered by the sweaty masses the better.

    Have a nice day.

  30. My one consolation is that the process is Darwinian. The reactionaries have spent the country into deep debt for the benefit of the business community. Now that community and its hired mouthpieces of both parties want the people who work and actually made the wealth of the country to pay for the prosperity in which most of us never really shared.

    If we're stupid enough to keep falling for this shell game, there are plenty of other civilizations are waiting in the wings to take up the slack. (There always are.) And the arrogant makers of the present mess will surely continue to the smug their way into irrelevance. Too bad that they're taking the entire country with them.

  31. If the politico-economic dysfunction in CA persists, then perhaps the only remedy is mass exodus, voting with feet (something you control) instead of with ballots (loaded dice, hence not really under your control). Not that other parts of the US is significantly better off, as the entire nation is no less dysfunctional. In some other blogs, I have even read pessimistic suggestions such as finding work outside the US and if there is a taker, leave the US. If push becomes a shove, this may be the only way to kick the jaws of our political elite: Taking away their tax base.

  32. @sick of hands in my pocket

    It has nothing to do with charity, ind he end you're paying taxes because it's the best thing for you:

    By educating the people in your country, better jobs will be created, more companies will be created, your countyr will be more wealthy, and you will benefit

    By improving the lives of people around you, less crimes will be comitted, and you will have to pay less for private secuity

    Sometimes it's cheaper and more effective to do something together as a country, than to try and do it privately. Or do you really want to privately pay for defence?

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  34. Irony that obviously the generation that benefited from “physical education, art for everyone, music and theater, buildings that looked as though people cared about them, modern languages and ancient languages, advanced science courses with labs where the equipment worked, and more” decided to cut back on all this, whereas the generation before which had none of these benefits valued education enough to put it into place. Maybe there is a deeper through hidden there …

  35. Those touchy, emotional please have no hold in reality.

    Washington D.C has the highest teacher salaries in the nation (avg = $61,000/yr) and has the LOWEST measured reading proficiency in the entire nation.

    Illinois has the 2nd highest teacher salaries and is close to the bottom in achievements.

    I would respect that professor more had the article simply said: "GIVE ME MORE MONEY", instead of lying to us.

  36. Ron Bischof:

    You are the troll, you idiot. How are Hayek and Friedman looking now? Not very well. You forget one thing about California. The prison guard union. Bell, CA, is the perfect example of what happens when citizens aren't educated about what their government is doing. Just as there are plenty of corrupt Democrats, there are just as many corrupt Republicans. Ans how many Republican Governors has California had since you were in school? You are just as delusional as all those Republicans/Conservatives that worship Ray-gun who have no idea what he actually did as President since what they believe doesn't in any way match up with reality.

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