Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Has the Left Destroyed California? Um, No!

Real Clear Politics must be hungry for material to publish these days. What else could explain the blog editors' decision to publish Dennis Prager's unprincipled rant on the front page? Prager makes four stunningly problematic claims in his essay "From California to the Boy Scouts: Left Destroys More than It Builds." Prager argues that "the left" has destroyed the state of California, the Boy Scouts, Judeo-Christian religion, and education. What a powerful thing - the Left.

Crazy California Claims
Prager cites a battery of statistics -- from home foreclosures to job losses -- which he contends result from leftist policies. Prager argues that:
Virtually throughout its history, and certainly in the 20th century, California has been known as the place to go for dynamism and growth. It did not become the richest, most populous, and most productive state solely because of its weather and natural resources.

So it takes a lot to turn California around from growth to contraction, from people moving into the state to a net exodus from the state, from business moving into California to businesses leaving California.

It takes some doing.

And the left has done it.
According to Prager, the Left accomplished this drastic feat by spending and regulating. What a surprise.

The problems with Prager's analysis are too numerous to analyze in this limited space. But primarily, the essay suffers because Prager fails to prove that "the Left" runs California today and that it has run California through its economic decline. He also fails to demonstrate that something other than the Left governed California through its past periods of high economic growth. Similarly, he does not link prior periods of economic decline in the state to the Left. In fact, he does not place his "analysis" in an historical context at all. Furthermore, Prager does not consider that the entire world (including all of the 50 states) is experiencing a financial and economic crisis and that the Left cannot even arguably have caused the problems in each jurisdiction.

More importantly, Prager fails to analyze specific reasons for California's problems that actually result from "free market" policies, not from regulation. For example, he cites to businesses and middle-class people leaving the state as evidence that the Left has destroyed it. But the high demand for property in California makes it unaffordable for many people and companies. Intel is leaving California in favor of New Mexico (which has a Democratic government as well) - not because the company is fed up with the Left, but because its much cheaper to open new facilities in New Mexico. This same principle causes U.S. companies to shift manufacturing to Asia and other lower-cost regions and for Wall Street companies to relocate to Northern New Jersey -- a bastion of Democratic political power. Prager ignores this basic explanation for companies abandoning more expensive locations because it undermines his reductionist left-blaming analysis.

The deeply conservative South is the poorest region of the country, and many of the nation's wealthiest jurisdictions are liberal. Accordingly, Prager's analysis could easily support the conclusion that conservative political dominance does not lead to economic growth. Furthermore, the Left certainly did not control the United States during the last eight years of economic decline. But unlike Prager, I refuse to blame one party or ideology for the current economic crisis. Our complex and difficult financial times deserve far more thoughtful and less partisan and kneejerk analysis.

Boy Scouts et al.
Apparently operating under the false impression that he was "on a roll," Prager chooses to make his already simplistic analysis disjointed by adding a discussion of the Left's destructive impact on the Boy Scouts, Judeo-Christian religion, and education. Prager believes that the Left has destroyed the Boy Scouts by challenging its anti-gay policies. Prager argues that the ACLU is the culprit in this destruction (I am not sure whether the ACLU litigated a case against the Boy Scouts, but that's irrelevant).

The Boy Scouts spends more time and money defending itself against (and paying settlements and judgments for) negligence cases than sexual orientation discrimination claims. In fact, since the Supreme Court held (in 2000) that the Boy Scouts could lawfully exclude gays and lesbians, this has become a nonissue in most places. Parents, however, sue the Boy Scouts constantly because their kids allegedly suffer injuries during events the organization sponsors. This is a much larger financial drain on the Boy Scouts than any other litigation or "civil rights" matter. Parents across the political spectrum sue the Boy Scouts persistently; this is not a leftist movement. Furthermore, I reject Prager's assumption that civil rights enforcement is "destructive."

The rest of Prager's analysis is too simplistic to warrant discussion. The problems associated with his discussion of California appear with greater force in his effort to prove that the Left has destroyed religion and education.

Final Take
I am a nonpartisan progressive. I have criticized the Left often on this blog, including its arguments concerning the economy. I have also criticized conservatives. But I reject the notion that any party or ideology has a monopoly on ethics and sound policies. I also believe people often exaggerate the extent to which politicians shape economic conditions. Prager's deeply partisan rhetoric does not advance debate. Instead, he has recklessly tossed a hand grenade into a difficult and delicate situation.

1 comment:

Ken Ballweg said...

The question of how much influence the Right's death grip on "No Taxes" as a policy has to do with the collapse of any government. Funny that Prager doesn't seem inclined to analyze that.

Oh right, that's been the salvation of government and the economy.

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