I don’t know that anyone else has ever been sworn to protect the Constitution of the United States on an iPhone. But my left hand had to go somewhere, and it was in my pocket…and there you have it. By the power vested in me by Steve Jobs, Jonathan Ive and Scott Forrestal…
So the wife and I were sworn in as disaster service workers tonight. I’m not sure why this requires a loyalty oath – I suspect some mid-50s law that never got rescinded – but there it was, right on the page, “that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of California.” Which is a pretty tall order, if you’ve ever see the Constitution of the State of California – a document second only to the Constitution of the State of Alabama in making you hang your head and mutter “you sorry son of a bitch…”
I’m sure that in 1911, when the railroads had the California Legislature in a professional threat sandwich, the idea of proposition/initiative direct democracy seemed like a good idea. And hell, it probably was. For a while. However, as was memorably said years ago in another life, “California officially failed in 1978 when people realized they could vote themselves free shit.” That was the year of Prop 13…and that was the year when “citizens” were replaced by “taxpayers.”
The problem with cutting taxes is that while it will free up money, some of which may even go into investment and creative efforts that eventually produce more jobs and economic growth, it also deprives the state of money. Which probably sounds like an unalloyed good to a lot of people, until you consider that the state also has the responsibility for things like schools. And jails. And police. And disaster management. The sorts of things that you probably could privatize, as long as you’re willing to farm out your kid’s eduction or your neighborhood’s safety to the lowest bidder. Sure enough, California’s public services went to hell, went directly to hell, do not pass Go, do not collect $200 because by God, that’s your money. There were efforts, of course – keep the legislature from spending or taxing any more (2/3 vote required, ably deadlocking government), there were added fixes (couple dozen propositions per year, EVERY year, writing this or that trendy preference into black-letter Constitutional law), there were attempts to take it out on the foreigners (Prop 187) or the coloreds (prop 209) or the homos (Prop 8). And the state is still just as bad off as ever, and teetering over the precipice, for one reason that is an indisputable fact:
Democracy doesn’t scale.
I could be wrong, except I’m not. The reason why we can enshrine the likes of the Greek polis or the New England town meeting in our collective mythology is because those were small, localized undertakings, consisting of considerably less than every living adult, where everybody knew everybody else’s business and were responsible before each other for the daily consequences of their decision-making. And at some small-town level, I’m sure things still work like this, where the mayor and the city council and the local crank and the harpy vice-president of the PTA and Otis the village drunk all have to face each other tomorrow at church, or Piggly Wiggly, or the football game.
California is the 8th largest economy in the world. California has 36 million people. The notion that anything at all in California can be handled by direct democracy is…what’s the word?…insane. Most people have no idea what’s on the ballot every year, even if they think they know because they saw the same commercial every morning for six months. The average voter gives ten times more thought to who they want for American Idol than they do for Proposition n+1. In fact, the most common coping mechanism is a blanket no on everything, which would make perfect sense, staff it back out to the elected officials – but the elected officials are hamstrung by constitutional rules that were voted upon them…wait for it…by a proposition.
If you think that the working equivalent of a G20 country (think Italy or so) can run itself by direct referendum at the ballot box…well, you’re entitled to your opinion, but you would be factually incorrect.
And this 18-wheeled shitshow is what I am pledged to support and defend. I guess it’s a good thing I was being sworn in as a disaster service worker.
to be continued…