Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Embarrassment of Banality

So, for Californians, apparently the only game in town that the powers-that-be can come up with to deal with our $25 billion budget hole is the Solomonic exhortation to split the baby in half: let’s fix it by $12.5 billion in cuts, and $12.5 billion by “extending” the 2009 tax increases.

(The Recovering Bureaucrat puts the word “extending” in quotation marks because of the old saw that taxes, once raised, are rarely trimmed back.  And in this case, that appears to be a very real concern, because there is no evidence that any serious thought has been given, by either the Governor or the legislature, as to just what will happen in five years, when the Schwarzenegger tax increase “extension” expires.  Unless the economy recovers to a remarkable degree so that tax revenues grow to cover the demand side of the ledger, we will just be back at square one in 2016—two years, the RB notes, after the next gubernatorial election.)

As painful as the result would probably be, the RB is inclined to vote No on the tax proposal, if and when it ever gets to the ballot.  Why?  Because there has been no commitment on the part of the state’s political leadership, including the business and labor establishments, to the serious and radical reforms necessary to bring the cost of government down to a manageable magnitude.

Look: every economic forecast projects a lengthy and slow recovery for California.  Most economists who have given the matter serious consideration assert that significant recovery in our housing market and in job growth will not show up much before 2015 at the earliest. 

In the meantime, upward pressures on the state’s budget will continue because of three factors: automatic increases in benefit programs (including the impact of Prop 98), greater demand on the public pension system, and continued demand for wealth transfers to ameliorate the effects of a slow turnaround.

Friday, March 11, 2011

End Times

Wisconsin Assembly passes bill to curb collective bargaining—CNN, March 10, 2010

We are indeed at end times.

Again.

It is really difficult for most of us to believe it, but almost all the turbulence we are experiencing—economically, politically, and societally—is an element of the massive and almost overwhelming shift the global economy has been undergoing for several decades now. Really, although it is probably sloppy to do this, the Recovering Bureaucrat suggests we can mark the date of this shift from November 9, 1989, the day the Berlin Wall was breached.

It was as if the American-Soviet stand-off that gave structure to the five decades of the Cold War evaporated overnight, making room for a number of pent-up energies to be let loose upon the globe. You may recall people making fun of President George H. W. Bush for proclaiming “the New World Order” in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, but in a major sense he was right—although it would probably have been more accurate to label it the “New World Disorder.”

The shift from the Industrial to Information Ages, gathering force since at least the invention of the transistor in 1947, seemed to explode onto the world scene in the 1990s. Peoples across the globe, beginning with eastern Europeans, clamored for release from longstanding tyrannies. And standards of living, literacy rates, and life expectancies accelerated their upward momentum.

Serious political discourse requires some familiarity with the big picture of the epoch-changing events underway. At the very least this will help us distinguish the serious from the frivolous over the course of the next months heading into 2012’s presidential election.

Why? Well, one of the key dynamics to observe and make peace with is the very human unwillingness to change with the times. This design feature of humanity tends to be a major source of discord, unhappiness, and even bloodshed in times of transition, for the devil we know (the old way of doing things) is almost always preferable to the one we don’t (the undiscovered country of the future). Further, you will no doubt note that the more profound the change, the more stubborn the resistance.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Citzens Anonymous

Welcome to the blog of the Recovering Bureaucrat, a soi-disant haven of adult conversation about the troubles we the citizens of California and the United States have created with our governments. The Recovering Bureaucrat’s intention is to inspire an honest dialogue about the actual challenges we face in designing and paying for government. He, like so many of us, is tired of the bloviating and posturing that too often substitutes for plain talk and sober fact-facing.

He’s been noticing for some time now that the tattered remains of the Mainstream Media in California, reduced essentially to the single big daily newspapers of Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, Sacramento, Orange County, and San Diego, endlessly recycle the same old “solutions” to the state’s endemic budget drama. He also notices the sharks that circle the conversation from the Left and the Right in the blogosphere, offering that enticing (and historically successful) political philosophy, “I’m right; you’re Hitler; bring it on.”

Ho hum.

The Recovering Bureaucrat notes that, in a democratic republic like ours, where the inmates are constitutionally indeed in charge of the asylum, he must accept that the right to be an idiot is a protected class in our constitutional order. Indeed, the Supreme Court again underscored this difficult truth in its 8-1 decision this week in the case of Snyder v. Phelps, upholding the right of members of the Westboro Baptist “Church” to publicly proclaim their ultra-tenuous hold on sanity in public.