The California budget

Governor Brown’s budget increases education spending (K-12 and higher education both) by less than two percent, (less than half what he proposes to dump into the prison-industrial corrections enterprise) after decades of starving them, but socks two billion into the rainy day fund under the mattress.  Saving for bad times is good, but so is saving in order to have better good times and bad times both, and the governor appears not to understand what a golden investment the capacity of California citizens to create value is.  I don’t like household analogies in public policy, but his “prudence” is like not buying tires so you’ll have more money to buy a new car when you total this one hydroplaning on the interstate.

Before I go on: I’m at the end of my career as a Berkeley prof, just as Brown is at the end of his career as a public official; not much about this issue really affects me assuming the retirement program doesn’t collapse.  My kids are educated and on their own.  This is about a future neither Brown nor I will figure in, but what decent people should properly count heavily: what kind of world they are leaving behind.

A rainy day fund is a bag of golden eggs you can draw on for emergencies: when you take one out, it’s gone. An educated, capable, responsible population is the goose that lays those eggs, and what that goose lives on is education (at every level) and research.  Brown is worried about hard times ahead; OK, what do global warming and continued drought mean for agriculture? No state spending will change the weather, but UC Davis profs and alums are the people who  will figure out how to deal with it. That’s where centuries of old wives’ tales and mythology were swept aside to make our incredibly successful wine industry. I don’t know exactly what they are cooking up now, but I know it’s suicidal to make them do less of it.

Maybe we’re looking at a tech bust, but there won’t be another boom, and the bottom will be much deeper, if our schools and universities don’t expand the factory  (trained minds) that puts out all that tech.  A big earthquake is already teed up, those plates are always on the move. Think a 7.0 on either fault  will put a big dent in the state’s economy?  Well, the dent will be a lot smaller if the early-warning system UC profs are developing is ready for it.

Entertainment is one of our major industries and no, artists (not to mention CGI wonks) don’t just pop onto the screen from the cosmetics aisle at the mall.  They are made in schools…or not. Right, lots of creative, competent people come to California from somewhere else.  More of them will do so if they know their kids will get a good education. 

Governor (and legislators): the way to save for a rainy day is  to make more people who will make more, better, stuff (physical and otherwise) cheaper. Schools, colleges, and universities are where that happens, and at least half of those $2b in golden eggs should be feeding the goose, not socked away doing nothing.

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.

One thought on “The California budget”

  1. The problem, of course, is that you can't really treat "education" as an undifferentiated, unalloyed good.

    There's education that greatly increases your lifetime earnings and contribution to society. STEM, for instance. Sadly, only a limited fraction of people are capable of doing well in these sorts of classes, as the minimum intellectual requirements to be successful in many fields are well above average.

    There's education that burns through several years of your life, and leaves you financially burdened, but otherwise contributes nothing to your ability to contribute to society or your own financial success. Basket weaving is the typical example, though given what they were charging for baskets the last time I was in Charleston, I've got doubts.

    Then there's education that burns through several years of your life, leaves you financially burdened, and leaves you less employable and less of a contribution to society than if you'd never gotten it. (Fill in the blank) studies, for instance.

    Category 1 can absorb a lot of money, of course, due to the need for lab facilities and instructors who could be making nice incomes in the private sector. But not an unlimited amount of money, because of the limited pool of people capable of benefiting from that sort of education.

    Category 2 isn't as expensive to deliver, but really isn't worth delivering unless you've got money to burn. And who does?

    And category 3 is a public harm.

    The problem is, the more money you throw at education, the more you seem to move down the categories…

    General note: Mark won't let me make more than one comment per post, so if you want a reply, I've included my email in my profile.

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