Wednesday, July 15, 2009


By Dan Walters | Sacramento Bee

Wed, Jul. 15, 2009 -- National Public Radio is running a series of broadcasts this week called "California in Crisis”. And NPR is not alone.

Network and cable television news shows, public broadcasters, major out-of-state newspapers and countless magazines are taking turns recounting and analyzing California's economic and fiscal travails. The tone of many reports is found in the German word "schadenfreude." It means taking pleasure from the distress of others.

The state's periodic social and economic upheavals have always generated that kind of media attention, something along the lines of "tarnish on the Golden State." But the current spate has an even edgier tone, suggesting that this time, it's worse and at least semi-permanent.

One example is California journalist and futurist Joel Kotkin, writing in Forbes magazine: "But the fundamental problem remains. California's economy – once wondrously diverse with aerospace, high-tech, agriculture and international trade – has run aground. Burdened by taxes and ever-growing regulation, the state is routinely rated by executives as having among the worst business climates in the nation. No surprise, then, that California's jobs engine has sputtered, and it may be heading toward 15 percent unemployment."

The Economist, a sober-sided British magazine, compares California to Texas, noting that the Lone Star State's economy has weathered the national recession nicely and suggesting it may have replaced California as the place creative and ambitious people flock to for opportunity.

The Economist cites "dysfunctional government" as a major California problem. It adds, "No state has quite so many overlapping systems of accountability or such a gerrymandered legislature," and describes the state's ballot measures as the "crack cocaine of democracy."

The New York Times surveys those who want to run for governor next year and wonders whether anyone can run an evidently dysfunctional state.

The carping tone and occasional inaccuracies aside, it's difficult to fault what the out-of-state media are saying about us. They see dysfunction because there is dysfunction. They wonder about our head-in-the-sand attitude about the state's economy, an assumption that everything will turn out all right, because that's exactly how we act.

Even as the state's economy continues to falter, state officials – including those in the Schwarzenegger administration – continue to add new layers of regulation, not to mention new fees and taxes, that contribute to the widespread belief that we are hostile to job-creating investment. And that doesn't include the psychological effects of chronic budget deficits, IOU payments to creditors and a credit rating much lower than that of any other state.

We desperately need to straighten out our laughingstock government, balance the state budget and demonstrate to the rest of the world that we're still in the game. The alternative is economic and social decay.

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