Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Three anecdotes come to mind when I consider the hysteria that greets any cost-cutting proposal for California’s 20-billion-plus budget deficit.

The first is a classroom comment made decades ago by a naïve seminary student who’d obviously never paid a water bill in his life. The young man opined that various public services should be provided at no cost—just like water is.

The second was an observation made by a putative adult who declared that people should not have to pay for health care. Rather, she said, the government should pay.

Anecdote number three concerns a recent trip to the United States post office adjacent Ocean’s Eleven Casino in Oceanside. I was seventh in line upon entering the queue. Three employees stood behind the counter. Fifteen minutes later I was addressing the only one who’d been slowly serving a line that was now twice as long and stretched into the next room.

For a minute or two astonished patrons stood opposite three “next window please” signs, with no active server at all—perhaps victims of an ingenious Candid Camera ruse where employees busy themselves in position, raise hopes, then walk away.

These incidents dovetail nicely with California’s budget debacle. A substantial portion of the state’s population have been trained to expect services for which no one has to foot the bill—or for which “big oil” serves as the goose that can simultaneously be cooked and periodically utilized for golden egg production.

The result of such magical thinking (as a trip to California’s DMV makes clear) is a situation where results and revenues can’t possibly match expectations. This is especially true when one throws into the mix the clout of public employee unions whose pensions have done for state and local budgets what UAW contracts did for GM.

This something-for-nothing mania has fed the regular expectation that Washington or corporate villains or Sacramento will pay for things that cost “us” nothing—as if government “for the people” isn’t also a government that’s paid for “by the people.”

Indicative of the sad state of the state is an ingenious proposal to pay parents to look after their own kids—an idea that theoretically saves money on CalWorks recipients who receive education assistance and also get their child care expenses subsidized.

When government is in the business of paying parents to look after their own kids, something has gone desperately wrong. How far off course things are can be gauged by the strange sound of this Grover Cleveland quotation: “It is the responsibility of the citizens to support their government. It is not the responsibility of the government to support its citizens.”

Today, by contrast, it’s “cash for clunkers” and bailouts for bad mortgages. Locals take from Sacramento. The state returns the favor.

Under this system “free medical care” will doubtless operate like Oceanside’s I-5 post office—with Sacramento and Washington balance sheets.

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