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Thursday, Dec 7, 2023

California’s Cat Won’t Take Kindly To Strolling Backward

If our Governator attempts to walk the spending cat back, he is going to find it really difficult.

Once you give cash away, its recipient becomes part of the entitlement lobby, and that is one big lobby. California decided years ago that it could borrow, tax and spend, but without the ability to print money, the endgame arrived quickly with the current budget deficit.

Florida Rolf, as is his nickname, became famous in Germany for being what we would call a welfare queen. He spent years on the German dole, living in a gated community in Florida. According to his psychiatrist, Rolf suffers from depression, and returning to damp, cold, dreary Germany would increase that depression.

Germany is about a year ahead of our governor. Germany became a welfare state a long time ago, but with the ability to print money, which is always a nice touch.

Germans have been living beyond their means for quite a while, with 35-hour workweeks, six weeks of vacation annually and early retirement at age 58. Germans can go on welfare at a rate of 68 percent of their salary for one year and 57 percent thereafter, darn near forever.

Hence, Florida Rolf was living high in Florida at least until last year, when Germany pulled Rolf’s string back to his home country (by threatening to cut off his stipend) and revised the laws, at least to some extent. From now on, those on the dole must reside in Germany.

Germany has learned that to compete in the global economy, it must become leaner and, perforce, meaner. Germany has an unemployment rate of 11 percent because it really pays to be unemployed there.

Now, the European Union has a 10-year plan to make itself the No. 1 business entity in the world, supplanting the United States. The plan, called the Lisbon Strategy, is now five years along, and the Europeans have fallen still further behind the United States. The “Strategy” calls for “the world’s most competitive and most dynamic knowledge-based economy, capable of sustainable growth accompanied by a qualitative and quantitative improvement in employment and social cohesion.”

As the editor of

TechCentralStation Europe

, Craig Winneker wrote in the

Wall Street Journal

on Jan. 28: “Not exactly ‘It’s the economy stupid.’ ”

Exactly! Anyone who writes plans in educational-ese instead of declarative sentences is looking for failure. The original Lisbon Strategy has fostered two reports , the Sapir Report and the Kok Report , each filled with obtuse but lofty rhetoric.

Other than the partial German welfare reform, little is happening. It is hard to walk the cat back. Unearned pay and vacation benefits, once given, require revolution to change.

California never went to the extremes of Germany, but only because California can’t print money. Germany actually is one of the world’s largest exporters of goods, but it could not support giving everything to everyone and still compete.

California residents, generally pretty liberal but practical, threw out their profligate governor , he who oversaw a $22 billion deficit. But it was not entirely Gray Davis’ fault.

Mostly, it was the Legislature’s fault. Davis went along, and only he could face a statewide recall. It didn’t help that in the election, Davis faced a popular and magnetic Hollywood heartthrob.

The Legislature remains unchastened, and its members don’t care about statewide recall because they oversaw a redistricting scheme that left almost everyone safe.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger can, and probably will, go to the public to stop the most egregious recommendations. But that takes time and, more importantly, it bypasses what should be a normal representative government process.

California’s initiative process is terrific, but it should be reserved for extreme circumstances and should not become the norm. Still, the state is heading for a train wreck. The Democrats have announced they intend to put forward the issues that Schwarzenegger vetoed last year, even though they understand the people stand with him.

The Democrats in the Legislature know they are going to eventually lose, but intend to fight just to create mischief, because they believe there is no price for them to pay , and they are probably correct.

I suspect there will be a voter revulsion that will show itself at the polls because Californians are socially liberal but much more practical than ideological, as Proposition 13, Proposition 187, and the recalls of both Chief Justice Rose Bird and Gov. Davis attest.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder just oversaw a radical (but still insufficient) overhaul of Germany’s welfare system, thanks to Florida Rolf, but Schwarzenegger does not have a single outrageous person he can point to in the vast overspending by the Legislature.

Germany’s economy, and that of California, have similar problems. Both let the unproductive live at the expense of the productive.

That is not just bad business; it is bad policy.

Allen Polk Hemphill is a freelance writer living in Escondido.


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