Things that are broken in California -- a k a "If I were Governor..."

jwatte's picture

There are a bunch of things that are systemically broken in California, and the state would do a lot better if these could be fixed. The problem is, the far left and far right aren't much in agreement about how to fix it, or even what it is that is broken. And, because of the two-party primary system, far-edge candidates win over centrist candidates, causing gridlock in the legislature (this is one of the things that are broken).

So, if I were emperor for a day, here are some things I might change, and see if it helped:

1) Instant run-off/ranked-choice elections for everything. This will allow people to vote their real desire as first choice, and the "safe" party candidate as the second choice. Given that we have computerized voting machines everywhere now, it shouldn't even be that hard or costly to implement.

2) Non-partisan election districts. We're already making great strides against that with the new election districting system. If we could add some mathematical rigor to the system, it would be even better. Something like a minimization problem of the ratio between boundary length of districts and number of voters.
Of course, the poor understanding of statistics among "normal" people means that, whomever feels that the outcome of the change was not in their favor would find some statistical outlier, dress it up on Fox News, and trumpet it as the total failure of the entire system. Which leads to...

3) Mandatory math and statistics classes. Our math education is terrible -- our school children are years behind most other countries. I think this is mainly just a lack of desire and goals. We could easily push seventh grade math down to fifth grade, and compress it all down, and it would probably end up being a net gain for everyone.

4) Pork during good times ("because it's there"), pork during bad times ("because we need to stimulate the economy.")
To even out the rather uneven revenue stream of the state of California, and to make it less desirable to raid good-time budgets to start expensive projects we can't afford to keep up, we need some enforced discipline. In signal processing, we call the problem "hysteresis" and the solution is generally some filtering. So, we need filtering in the budgeting process. Here's a proposal to start out from:

a. each year, 10% of the income must be put into a reserve fund
b. each year, 10% of the reserve fund balance from last year can be used as income
c. fund is kept in bonds and conservative aggregate equities (a k a "prime equities mutual fund" type investments)
d. additionally, 50% of any increase in available budget (after taking out the reserve) must be put into the reserve fund -- this makes sure we bank windfalls until we know what to do with them

c. and d. can be done immediately. a. is harder, because we likely can't cut spending by 10% right away. Instead, we'll have to roll it out with one percentage unit per year -- first year, 1% (plus 50% of any revenue increase) into the fund. Second year, 2%. Tenth year, 10%. Defer the take-out by one year, so that the first year, nothing is taken out, second year, 1% is taken out (which will be close to nothing); third year, 2% is taken out, ...

5) Prisons. We *know* from science that punishment doesn't really work as deterrent. Meanwhile, we *know* that sending people to prison is really disruptive to families, workplaces and communities, and we *know* that people coming out of prison are likely to go deeper into criminal behavior. Prisons serve as criminal schools, really.
For non-violent crimes, find some other way to deal with it. There does exist effective treatment programs and rehabilitation for many "soft" crimes. For other "victimless" crimes, it's even a question whether we should spend time and money on them at all.
The prison guard unions, and the commercial prison operator company lobbying organizations are very influential right now. We should bring prisons back into the operation of the state, to reduce the influence of those corporations, and we should make the goal be treatment where possible, rather than just sitting off the time. This will, long term, be a net win for society.

6) Victimless crimes: Possession of drugs. Prostitution. Thought crimes. Trafficking of drugs.
Just make it legal, regulate and tax it already. These are goods that society demands. Much better to make sure there is a safe supply (that generates tax revenue), than spending tons of time, effort and money fighting something that we, as a society, actually *want*.
I'm not a junkie, or even a pot head. I'm faithful to my wife. In fact, I kind-of despise pot heads, because they almost invariably end up lacking the necessary drive to accomplish great things. But that's a personal choice on their behalf. Just because I despise something doesn't mean it should be illegal, and cause cops to bust down doors of families.

7) Mass hysteria and populist politics. Which do you think is the bigger problem to society: pedophiles, or car accidents?
Turns out, car accidents cause a thousand more deaths, and a thousand more traumatized, maimed and handicapped lives per year, than any number of organized pedophile rings. That doesn't mean we shouldn't protect those who can't protect themselves from those who would prey on them, but we should probably make sure we get our priorities straight.
Unfortunately, it's an easy win for politicians to appear to be "tough on crime" and "protect society" by enacting laws that have very little true effect on the causes of crime, yet cut into the civil liberties of people in surprisingly deep ways.
Did you know that I can be arrested, sentenced to prison, and then prevented from owning a house of my choice in any city for the rest of my life, simply for drawing a work of fantasy art, with no relation to reality, on a piece of paper? "Protect the children," say the moralist shrill voices that are stumping for votes. Out comes a law like the Protect act.
Think about this for a moment: This act outlaws a drawing of something imaginary, just because of what it depicts, just because the powers that be (and most people) don't like the subject matter.
Let's draw this to its logical conclusion: We don't like drawings of minors having sex, because we don't like minors havng sex. We find it morally wrong, and thus we outlaw depictions of it. But there are things even more morally wrong than minors having sex. For example, killing people is clearly morally worse, and in all ways a worse outcome for society and those involved. Also, people killing people is, as far as I know, a bigger problem (numerically) than rape of minors. (Note that the law doesn't outlaw just pictures of rape or other unconsensual sex, though)
Thus, if it's bad to draw imaginary pictures of minors having sex, then it's *really* bad to draw imaginary pictures of killing people.
I can't find any way that you could logically claim that the real crime of statutory rape is worse than the real crime of murder, and I can't find any way that you could logically claim that the production of pictures of imaginary underage sex is worse than the production of pictures of imaginary murder.
But... one of California's biggest industries is creating imaginary pictures of people killing people! Hollywood churns out a never-ending stream of violent movies, killing imaginary people right left and center. Clearly, they should all go to jail for a very long time!

8) Prop 13. The '70s era proposition that makes it impossible for seniors to move out of houses that are too big for them, also makes it impossible to adequately fund our schools to raise above the 49th position in the union.
Again, this is populist hysteria gone haywire, and it can't be fixed after it's done. Prop 13 means that the assessed value of a house cannot be increased by more than 2% per year, and it also means that taxes can't be levied above 1% with less than a 67% super-majority. This came about, because some seniors who lived in houses they had paid off, found their cost of living going up faster than their (often fixed) income. Plus homeowners vote with their pocketbooks, and who would say no to a law that means those greedy politicians can't steal your hard-earned money?
Well, those politicians are elected by the same home-owners, who are now complaining that we can't find enough well-educated employees for the companies that are supposed to pay for medical care and social security in their retirement. If you don't want taxes to be raised, don't vote for politicians that raise taxes. You shouldn't remove the one tool we have for adjusting societal expenditures forever, just to solve a short-term problem.
The truth is that a lot of people want to live in California because of it's business culture, its climate, and its open, multi-cultural buffet of lifestyles. Because more and more people move here (and we make more and more people ourselves, too), demand for housing goes up. This means that, in a free market, prices (and thus values) will go up, which should mean that the cost of living somewhere should go up. Prop 13 puts the free market out of commission -- no matter how much the market desires your house, your cost for occupying that spot of land will not go up by more than 2% per year. GA "deed" is a human construct, and no person can expect to actually "own" any plot of land (because someone or something else lived on it before, back for a few hundred million years at least), so trying to perpetuate "ownership" of land, putting natural competition aside, just leads to imbalance.
In the end, 80-year-old people end up living alone in a house of 5 bedrooms neighboring a school, because they haven't had to adjust to changing circumstances before (being "protected" by Prop 13), and now they cannot afford to move, because the property taxes on any new place (being assessed at the new purchase price) would be ten times higher.
We, as a society, need to phase this out. We can't do it all at once -- we'll have to do it over some longer amount of time, like ten or twenty years, because people have made plans based on the existing cost landscape, but it does need to go.

9) Transparency. A free market relies on perfect knowledge. Look it up: People making rational decisions using perfect information will end up causing the best possible overall outcome -- that's the basic theory of Adam Smith's "invisible hand."
But our system does not provide perfect information. Even if people made rational decisions (rather than decisions based on mass hysteria, prejudice and superstition), without perfect information, the overall outcome will not be optimal. Unfortunately, our system protects liars. While we allow companies a lot of protection under the law (the same protections we afford to citizens), we do not require disclosure of the kinds of information that would let consumers and shareholders actually make proper decisions. Those who lie the best, will look better than the average in the market, and will thus be rewarded by more customers and more shareholders, perpetuating a bad cycle.
Solving this is simple: All companies must keep their books and files open to public scrutiny at all times.
This is probably the most controversial proposal I make within this rant, but really -- a free market demands perfect information. If someone is allowed to hide and manipulate information, they are then obviously allowed to manipulate the market. The more information we allow to be hidden and manipulated, the more our free market will be out of whack, rewarding uncompetetive and unhealthy behavior.
We, as a state, afford companies special rights. We *could* make it so that every person working at a company is fully legally responsible for what they and the company does. If your company has an accident that causes death or property damage, all the directors and employees could go to prison. But, we don't -- we grant a corporation a certain degree of protection for the people working for it. In return, we can demand that the corporation enable the free market by providing complete, open information.
I argue that doing this will actually bring about a new, golden era of healthy, strong companies that create wonderful products, provide wonderful services, and are wonderful places to work for all Californians.

So, who's with me?