The Hijacked Public Interest in California

If you consider yourself an environmentalist, and someone who – unlike libertarians – believes in a strong role for government in our lives, it’s hard to watch what has been done to environmentalism and government in California. Environmentalists have been hijacked by the global warming lobby, and our state and local governments have been hijacked by labor unions. And if you don’t accept the premises of California’s environmentalists today – that reducing CO2 emissions is going to address an urgent environmental crisis at the same time as it helps the economy, or the premises of California’s public employee unions – that public employees are NOT over-compensated and therefore we must raise taxes so we can afford to pay them, you may logically conclude that California is akin to an occupied nation.

Notwithstanding the spectacular failure of the Meg Whitman campaign – more on that later – the problem in California politics is simple. The environmentalists get their backing from Wall Street plutocrats, who have correctly identified the opportunity to trade CO2 “emissions credits” and “offset credits” as the biggest opportunity for them to rob from the poor and give to the rich they’ve ever seen. Public sector unions get their backing directly from California’s taxpayers, since these unions pretty much compel California’s public employees to join and pay dues. Estimates of California’s public sector union total political spending reach a half-billion dollars on politics every two year election cycle (ref. Public Sector Unions & Political Spending). And these unions, just like the environmentalists, are best friends of Wall Street – those unsustainable pensions granted unionized public employees, retirement benefits that are anywhere between 3x and 10x more generous than social security – pour far more money into Wall Street pension funds than any other category of investment in America.

Because environmentalists have shifted their concern from the environment to becoming tools for Wall Street CO2 emissions brokers, and because public sector unions have succeeded in empowering public sector workers but have done nothing for the private sector workers whose taxes fund the public sector, these groups no longer operate in the public interest. While fiscal conservatives have been screaming about this for years, even liberals are beginning to see the light – particularly with respect to the antics of public sector unions, but recently, even the environmentalist agenda has begun to concern conscientious liberals who sincerely care about the public interest.

Which brings us to California’s recent election, where Democrats ran the table for higher state office. Republican Meg Whitman made several mistakes – explored adequately elsewhere – but her failure was illustrative of a fundamental reality in California politics: Democrats don’t have to raise money for their candidates from the grassroots, or from independent businesspeople, because they get their money from Wall Street plutocrats who masquerade as environmentalists (note the crushing defeat of Prop. 23 because it threatened their interests), and from public sector unions. And because election laws preclude a wealthy individual from making a substantial donation to a candidate they choose, the only way a Republican can afford to run for higher office in California is if they are themselves wealthy. That is a tough one – how many good candidates are wealthy? How many wealthy people make good candidates? And even if they would do a great job – and Meg Whitman probably would have done a great job – they are tainted by their access to money from the get-go. “Queen Meg.” The irony is almost too much to bear.

For these reasons, candidates in California can’t sit on the fence, nor can they adhere to an orthodox conservative ideology. A successful reform candidate in California will have to swing for the fences, identifying phony environmentalists and insatiable public sector unions as the villains in this drama, and courting liberals alongside conservatives down a path towards restoring a government that acts in the public interest. If California simply implemented a 20% headcount reduction and 20% pay-cut across the board to their public sector employees, put a ceiling of 3x the maximum social security benefit onto their pensions combined with a 50% employee contribution, built 3 nuclear power stations and two more reservoirs, most of California’s economic problems would disappear. People who care about the environment, the dignity of workers, and the public interest in general, should wonder why more politicians aren’t asking for these solutions.

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5 replies
  1. oz says:

    Really? Are these two really the ONLY economic/public policy problems in California?

    1) Public employees and 2) misguided environmentalism?

    Somehow this seems like a very hasty generalization.

    You tell me, Ed.

  2. Editor says:

    Oz – if you are suggesting this oversimplification of the issues facing California might be an oversimplification, you would be right. Nonetheless, I think the core issues facing California do center around these two issues – the size of government, and the legitimate scope of environmental mandates. Many issues can be subsumed within these – our welfare and immigration policies are certainly influenced by how policymakers view the role and extent of government services – and in my opinion, as long as unions control our government in California, they will see the social problems attendant to enabling illegal immigration (and providing taxpayer funded services to illegal immigrants), along with expanding welfare programs which are self-perpetuating and create a cycle of dependence – as a meal ticket and a formula for bigger government, more taxes, and more government employees. Similarly, as long as environmentalists are allowed to pursue their agenda without any reasonable restrictions or rational challenges, they will also create more and more limits on property rights, business prerogatives, and personal liberties – all of which are also accompanied by bigger government. In my opinion, these are core issues. There is nothing simple about it, but I do think we can distill the most troubling challenges to democracy and freedom in California to the power of public sector unions and the power of extreme environmentalists. To your specific points – I think the failure of our public education system in California is explicitly the fault of public sector teacher’s unions, and I think the rise in drug use among California’s youth is – to a significant degree – the product of bad schools and the welfare state. So perhaps we may agree more than we disagree.

  3. Charles says:

    I think oz is right you kind of tap danced around the issue.
    Public employee benefits in some sectors and wages in some also are a problem, but most California Miscellaneous employees are not over paid in either. Overzealous environmentalists need to be reined in also, as well as California politicians who feed them.

    But the real problem is California voters. They vote in costly propositions with no funding. They vote in constraints on how California can budget their money without concern for long term problems. And they keep voting in the same kind of spendthrift politicians who cannot see past their next election.
    Who really is the biggest threat to the State’s economy? Ignorant voters.

  4. Ian Jones says:

    Hi Charles,
    I certainly agree with you that Californian voters have not made the best choices in recent elections. However I would suggest that this comes down to them being ill informed rather than simply ignorant. Politicians that make appealing promises will always be attractive to voters. Surely voters can’t be expected to distinguish between those proposals that are financially viable and those that are not. Without detailed economic knowledge this is not feasible in many instances. It is the politicians that we should look to; they should be required to provide proof that their policies are likely to work. This being the case, voters would be able to make more informed choices and problems that have occurred in the past would be prevented.

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