My colleague from the philosophy department was becoming increasingly angry. He was trying to be polite, but it was clear that he was raging inside. After a few minutes, he smiled a very strained smile and excused himself.
Our conversation was about California, or to be more specific, California governance. As readers can imagine, he was bullish on how the Democratic Party governs the state, California being perhaps the most one-party state in the USA. Every statewide election has gone to a Democrat in the last decade, and Democrats have a supermajority in the state legislature, which means that there is no meaningful Republican opposition and whatever the Democrats want, they get.
Not surprisingly, California governance is squarely progressive. The unions representing government employees effectively run the legislature, and as a result, pay, benefits, and pensions for those workers increasingly are straining the state budgets. (Steven Greenhut, a libertarian journalist based in California, has documented the unsustainable growth of government in that state for nearly two decades.) Yet, the state continues to march politically and economically in the progressive direction as though the laws of economics didn’t matter.
For the most part I have observed progressive California from far away, but my life took a different turn a few years ago, and the state is becoming my new home. I married a retired nurse from Sacramento in 2018, and because of health issues with her adult daughter, she has to remain in that city, something not in our original plans. Because my school’s campus either has been closed or severely restricted during the covid-19 lockdowns, I have spent most of the past year working from my wife’s home.
Living and working in California has offered me the opportunity to observe California progressivism up close, and it has been an interesting experience. Yes, the state where I officially reside, Maryland, is famously one-party and progressive, but the progressivism of California makes Maryland’s legislature look almost red state by comparison and surreal in some ways.
For example, the California legislature in its progressive wisdom effectively decriminalized theft as long as thieves take less than $950 worth of merchandise, officially reducing such theft to a misdemeanor but in effect making it legal, since progressive California prosecutors don’t like to be bothered by petty criminals. In practice, that means consumer goods are much harder to find in California stores than one might experience elsewhere. For me, the difference was quite revealing, as I recently returned to Maryland after spending close to nine months in Sacramento.
When I go to the Walmart near my wife’s home, I find many things openly are on display in Maryland are behind locked cases in California. Furthermore, California’s draconian labor laws mean Walmart has fewer employees, so if I wish to purchase something I easily could buy in Maryland, I have to wait for a long time and often I just walk away because no one is available to open the glass case. Yet, even with these provisions, shoplifting losses for California retailers are enormous, and the state’s pro-theft laws have encouraged organized grab-and-run rings….[ ]