Saturday, November 20, 2010

Can democracy work when people are idiots? (Professor Bainbridge & Jonathan Zasloff)

"Can democracy work when people are idiots?" is the question raised by right-of-center "libertarian" blogger Professor Bainbridge as the title of a blog post. It's a good question. And his conclusion—that "California's main problem these days is the people who live here", since "[a]pparently Californians will believe anything, no matter how moronic"—is partly correct. Bainbridge quotes from Cathleen Decker in the LA Times to illustrate:
Californians object to increasing taxes in order to pare the state's massive budget deficit, and instead favor closing the breach through spending cuts. But they oppose cuts—and even prefer more spending—on programs that make up 85% of the state's general fund obligations, a new Los Angeles Times/USC Poll has found.

That paradox rests on Californians' firm belief that the state's deficit—estimated last week at nearly $25 billion over the next 18 months—can be squared through trimming waste and inefficiencies rather than cutting the programs they hold dear. Despite tens of billions that have been cut from the state budget in recent years, just a quarter of California voters believed that state services would have to be curtailed to close the deficit.
Jonathan Zasloff of The Reality-Based Community agrees with "my friend and colleague Steve Bainbridge" up to a point ... but he adds an important part of the story that Bainbridge left out. When one of the country's two major political parties has, for decades, pursued a strategy of systematically fostering and exploiting public idiocy on these matters, that doesn't help matters.
As Steve is fond of saying, you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas. It’s even worse if you are the dogs and fleas simultaneously.
Correct. Read the rest (below).

--Jeff Weintraub

P.S. This kind of magical thinking is not restricted to Californians, of course. See How the US public thinks we should cut the federal deficit.

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Jonathan Zasloff (The Reality-Based Community)
November 18, 2010
Proposition 19 Actually Passed!

Or at least it appears that a majority of Californians were already smoking some serious weed:

Californians object to increasing taxes in order to pare the state’s massive budget deficit, and instead favor closing the breach through spending cuts. But they oppose cuts—and even prefer more spending—on programs that make up 85% of the state’s general fund obligations, a new Los Angeles Times/USC Poll has found.

That paradox rests on Californians’ firm belief that the state’s deficit—estimated last week at nearly $25 billion over the next 18 months—can be squared through trimming waste and inefficiencies rather than cutting the programs they hold dear. Despite tens of billions that have been cut from the state budget in recent years, just a quarter of California voters believed that state services would have to be curtailed to close the deficit.

As is his wont, my friend and colleague Steve Bainbridge is not amused: “Can democracy work when people are idiots?,” he asks. “It’s no wonder Scientology is so big out here. Apparently Californians will believe anything, no matter how moronic.”

Very true. But there is a bigger problem here. The entire gravamen of Republican Party ideology since St. Ronald is that government is so shot through with “waste, fraud, and abuse” that we can cut it without any consequences. My UCLA colleague David Sears’ classic book on Proposition 13 carries with it an even more classic subtitle: “Something for Nothing in California.”

This may be true on Planet GOP, where tax cuts pay for themselves, where Saddam Hussein caused 9/11 and had weapons of mass destruction, where climate change is a hoax, where Barack Obama is a Marxist Muslim, where the federal government is taking over our Medicare, where progressives are derided for being too “reality-based,” where war is peace, freedom is slavery, and ignorance is strength. But it is not true on earth.

Republicans never meant it, of course: their hope was that they would “starve the beast” and attempt to redistribute income upward in order to turn the whole country into Mississippi, or maybe Venezuela. And now they find that the voters don’t want them to and they don’t know what to do. They have told the big lie for 30 years, but it’s hard now to say, “Oh, sorry folks: just kidding.”

As Steve is fond of saying, you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas. It’s even worse if you are the dogs and fleas simultaneously.

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