James Lacy has started the new year with a bang, publishing a book which promises to be chock full of absurdity. He calls it Taxifornia: Liberals’ Laboratory to Bankrupt America, but I would like to suggest that the author amend his title to How One Idiot Mis-Read History to Draw Misleading Conclusions about the Source of California’s Ills. Less pithy, I’ll grant you, but also more accurate.
I’m not going to pay money for Lacy’s tome, but if I run across a copy in the library I might read it. But the Amazon blurb, introduced by the one and only Darrell Issa, outlines his central argument which, if it is representative of the quality of his reasoning, suggests that readers have little to gain from opening a text which might as well have been co-authored by the Koch Brothers and Grover Norquist. “Liberalism is to blame for California’s rotting economy. The biggest and most important state in America was once a land of opportunity in a wonderful climate. But times have surely changed. Things have never been worse for California and its citizens”.
Why is that? the puzzled reader will undoubtedly wonder. Lacy has an answer: “California’s ‘one-party’ domination of [sic] the liberal faction of the California Democratic Party and their union and environmental lobby cronies have wreaked havoc on California, and all Americans are losing as a result”.
On his facebook page, Lacy describes his efforts to “[take] on Jerry Brown and the liberal Democrats for their ruinous high taxes, high unemployment policies in California”.
As always, it’s difficult to know where to start when dealing with someone as obviously bonkers as Lacy. But the foundation seems like a decent proposition, given that exposing the faulty premises behind his argument should serve to indicate how intellectually bankrupt the remainder is.
Unless Lacy’s book is exclusively about the past one year, his contention that Democrats bear responsibility for California’s ills are manifestly false. Thanks to Proposition 13, a supermajority is required to raise revenue. Since most changes in spending aside from the cuts that the Republican Party favours require increases in revenue, only a party with supermajority control could go on the kind of spending binges Lacy describes as the norm in Sacramento.
But of course Democrats did not possess supermajorities in the Senate and Assembly until just under one year ago (and they have been positively cowardly when it comes to doing anything useful with them during that year). Before that, the state’s purse strings were controlled by the Republican Party from its minority position.
So far from being a “liberal” experiment, California has long been the GOP’s very own Frankenstein. Using populist cover, the GOP and its corporate handlers engineered Prop 13’s sweeping reduction of taxes—not only for homeowners, but for businesses, effective shielding large property-owners from their social responsibilities.
Using their ability to grind government to a halt simply by saying “no”—once again thanks to the supermajority requirements enshrined by Prop 13—the Republican Party forced divestment on the state, trashing public education, shuttering public spaces, and reducing public support for the victims of the Darwinist policies they and neoliberal Democrats pursued in Sacramento and Washington, D.C. To the crackpot conservatives who have run California for the past several decades on the basis of their economic fundamentalism and according to the diktats of their corporate handlers, making a political point by hurting children, students, the elderly, the poor, the sick, and the weak is more important than asking oil companies to pay a severance tax, the wealthy to pay their fair share, or property owners to pay according to the value of their large holdings.
As for taking on Jerry Brown’s “high tax” agenda, Lacy is clearly deluded. Governor Brown governs—when he bothers at all—very much like a Republican. In his first two years in office he forced ever more draconian cuts on the state, pounding public K-12 education, eviscerating public higher education, and annihilating early childhood education. Our penny-pinching Governor passed a temporary and cosmetic tax increase designed to keep weak-kneed liberals happy while he spends most of his time trying to bend the public good to the will of the immoral market economy responsible for high unemployment and depressed wages. He’s the best thing that could have happened to the Republican Party after their electoral route, which began in 2010 and has continued since. Just like before, they can see their policies implemented without having to take responsibility for the catastrophic consequences.
Lacy talks about the threat of business flight from the state. But let’s be clear about one thing. The only businesses with the clout to make the GOP hop to do their bidding are the big ones. Owners of small businesses are not another species and they will not benefit from the Texas-style economy of low wages, poor working conditions, poor services, and crumbling social infrastructure. They would benefit, just like other citizens, from a stable economy with a stable tax base (impossible so long as Prop 13 stands), strong public institutions, and solid public welfare systems.
The businesses threatening to leave California, whose threats make Republican politicians leap into action, represent the same interests which passed Prop 13 and have been working to reduce the public sphere ever since. They are blackmailing Californians. They are blackmailing voters by telling them that they will attempt to sabotage the state’s economy if they are not allowed to live their lives unencumbered by any social responsibility. They are demanding special treatment, and that society should let them off the hook. And if Lacy and the GOP have their way, those special interests will continue to construct themselves as a class apart, separated not only by a yawning income gap, but by its sense of responsibility, from the rest of us.
In 2014, Californians will have the opportunity to make some choices about the future of their state. If we choose, we can buy Lacy’s a-historical fairy tale about the origins of our ills and build ourselves an economy which privileges the plutocratic elite at the expense of California’s citizenry at large.
Or, we could demand a democracy in which elected officials and voters work in concert through structural reforms to a system of government which today is unworkable thanks to the sabotage of the GOP. We could demand a government which invests in the public good, recognising that a strong, well-paid, well-educated, well-buttressed workforce characterised by equality rather than gross inequity could give our state the comeback that politicians have been telling us is just over the horizon, but which will not materialise until we demand honesty from analysts like Lacy and action from officials like Governor Brown.