California, in Krugman's view, has been the victim of Republicans who blocked tax increases and kept the state from building the Ultimate Lefty Pipedream: High-Speed Rail. Now that the Republicans no longer have any political influence or power there, the Golden State can now tax and spend itself into a glorious future, and if that future of massive government spending turns sour, I am sure that Krugman will be able to blame Paul Ryan or Goldstein or Seinfeld or Blowfeld.
...reports of the state’s demise proved premature. Unemployment in California remains high, but it’s coming down — and there’s a projected budget surplus, in part because the implosion of the state’s Republican Party finally gave Democrats a big enough political advantage to push through some desperately needed tax increases. Far from presiding over a Greek-style crisis, Gov. Jerry Brown is proclaiming a comeback.Now, even Krugman is not quite ready to proclaim Paradise Regained, although the lack of any opposition to an accelerated tax-and-borrow-and-spend certainly should speed its arrival:
Needless to say, the usual suspects are still predicting doom — this time from the very tax hikes that are closing the budget gap, which they say will cause millionaires and businesses to flee the state. Well, maybe — but serious studies have found very little evidence either that tax hikes cause lots of wealthy people to move or that state taxes have any significant impact on growth.
I’m not suggesting everything in California is just fine. Unemployment — especially long-term unemployment — remains very high. California’s longer-term economic growth has slowed, too, mainly because the state’s limited supply of buildable land means high housing prices, bringing an era of rapid population growth to an end. (Did you know that metropolitan Los Angeles has a higher population density than metropolitan New York?) Last but not least, decades of political paralysis have degraded the state’s once-superb public education system. So there are plenty of problems.The fact that California has the highest taxes in the country, has a virulent anti-business governmental culture, and has rules that increase the cost of just about everything has nothing to do with it. After all, in Wonderland, higher costs translate into more spending, and more spending creates more wealth, so these "problem" to which Krugman refers actually are opportunities for more government spending, which means a brighter future.
Given the leftist fetish regarding the evils of population growth, I'm not sure why Krugman even would cite the end of such growth as a bad thing. After all, as Matt Yglesias writes in Slate:
I'm reasonably certain that California's deteriorating public services aren't really driving the declining population growth. That's because if you look at someplace in California where it would be nice to live—Santa Monica, say, or Palo Alto—it turns out to be incredibly expensive. All the best land is occupied and the people in those communities don't want it to get filled up with more density and California's environmental legislation gives them powerful tools with which to block new residents.Given that Krugman can afford to live in places like Santa Monica or Palo Alto, and given his strong environmental credentials, I am sure that he would approve of those laws that keep the Great And Beloved Unwashed far away from himself and others who love these folks who help keep Democrats in office but who really should try to live somewhere else. But California has another problem, and for all of Krugman's Greece I Tell You! fetishes, it seems that there really is a Greece connection.
Like Greece, California has great weather, beautiful and rugged mountains, and a magic coastline. Friends of mine who decry the financial madness and out-of-control governments nonetheless do not want to leave because of the quality of life they have enjoyed there. Like Greece, California governments have run up debts that over time cannot be repaid (two of which are discussed below), and like Greece, California is part of a central currency union and cannot print its own money, and sooner or later government employees in California are going to take such a huge chunk of public wealth (as they have in Greece) that the hard choices that are inevitable will create a lot of consternation.
There are two issues that are government budget eaters in California, and while Krugman kind of alludes to one (high-speed rail), the other is even more explosive: municipal and state pension obligations that have come about because of the state's powerful government unions. Steven Greenhut has written a lot about the state's out-of-control government unions which have driven a number of municipalities to bankruptcies.
The issue is quite simple: a number of cities, not to mention state agencies, pay their unionized employees very well and have promised even better pensions. However, paying for these things is another matter, and maybe Krugman is right in that businesses and individuals will allow tax hikes to go on forever to pay for the enrichment of others, but I have my doubts.
High-speed rail, or what Krugman calls "infrastructure," is another California boondoggle that really could manage to bankrupt the state government. The original idea was that the state, through sale of bonds, federal grants, and tax increases, would build a high-speed rail line to run between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Like all such public projects, the original cost projections started out relatively small and have metastasized into something else. (I doubt seriously that Krugman ever will write a future column about the fiscal foolishness of California high-speed rail projects if for no other reason than he actually believes that higher costs will translate into more spending which then will create more prosperity. The Keynesian Way.)
Keynesians believe that government spending creates its own wealth multipliers, so when governments promise huge pensions, fund rail boondoggles, and block the growth of businesses, they actually are making everyone better off, as though government spending has an internal generator that can create something from nothing. The Law of Scarcity, however, cannot be repealed by government no matter what Krugman declares.
Because California now has a Democrat supermajority and will continue that way indefinitely, Krugman believes that there will be nothing to stop the state and municipal governments there from internally generating wealth through tax increases, borrowing, and spending. Even if high-speed rail costs much more than it could collect in actual revenues, that is good because it will mean more spending, and spending is actually a form of wealth production.
Please understand Krugman's larger point. He is saying that the government of California can make it difficult for businesses to operate in a high-tax, high-regulation environment (except businesses that are politically-connected), and try to make up for the loss of wealth through taxation, borrowing and spending. He is saying that the government can internally produce wealth simply by spending money that first must come from other sources.
So, drink up, California! Your future is unlimited all because your politicians and some "economists" believe they can tax you into Paradise.
Update: The Atlantic has a very interesting article on California about what Progressives can learn about governance, and the Democrat that writes it, Conor Friedersdorf, says this about Krugman's California column:
In California, my home state, Democrats have dominated the capitol since roughly 1970. In the last four-plus decades, they've controlled both houses of the state legislature for all but two years. They dominate the state bureaucracy and the leadership of most major cities. And they've long dominated the vast majority of statewide offices, the governorship excepted: Since Ronald Reagan departed in 1975, it has gone back and forth between Democrats (like current and former governor Jerry Brown) and Republicans, most recently the moderate Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Despite this, Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize-winning economist and New York Times opinion writer, has managed to write a column that proceeds as if, insofar as partisans can be blamed, Republicans are entirely to blame for the state's woes, which he thinks are exaggerated, while Democrats bear no responsibility. As a Californian who hasn't given up on his place of residence, I'm glad to see Krugman thinks there are good times ahead for the Golden State, but the analysis that precedes his conclusion is causing me to doubt him.
Not that Krugman would take notice or admit to being wrong. No, Goldstein is EVERYWHERE and controls all things, don'tcha know?