Posts tagged ‘San Francisco Chronicle’

San Francisco: Progressive Paradise or Bankrupt Banana Republic?

Great article in the SF Weekly on San Francisco:  The Worst Run Big City in the US.  The article is lengthy and packed full of government fail.  Just one example:

You can't get San Francisco running efficiently, because that would require large numbers of unionized city workers to willingly admit their redundancy and wastefulness. Inefficiency pays their salaries. "It's been going on for decades," Peskin says.

This problem comes up almost every time the city negotiates labor contracts, which is part of the reason San Francisco is constantly on the brink of fiscal ruin. Politically powerful unions "” the progressives are beholden to the service unions; moderates cater to police, firefighters, and building trades; and Republicans ... what's a Republican? "” negotiate contracts the city knows it can't afford. Politicians approve them, despite needing to balance the budget every year, because the budget impact of proposed contracts is examined by the Board of Supervisors only for the following year, no matter how long contracts run. According to former city controller Ed Harrington, it has become common practice not to schedule any raises for the first year of a contract, but to provide extensive raises in later years.

The result is a contract that looks affordable one year out, then blows up in the city's face. City employees receive up to 90 percent of their already generous salaries in pensions and many also receive lifetime health care "” meaning that as they retire, labor costs soar.

Sounds like the health care bill in Congress, no?  The bit near the beginning on the problem in the parks department - overstaffing, no one showing up for work, lost money, poor controls, no process - particularly resonate with me.  My business is the privatization of public parks.  I can't tell you how many public parks agencies I know to be providing terrible service (service levels that I would be ashamed of) with grossly inflated budgets tell me face-to-face that they can't privatize because that would jeopardize the quality of the parks.  Well, that and the fact that the public employees unions would not allow it.

I always laugh when folks tell me that government intervention is needed because private industry is too short term oriented.  But no one is more short term oriented than politicians looking to the next election or closing this year's budget hole.  In particular, capital maintenance is always ignored until infrastructure is literally falling apart.   We see it in parks, transit systems, roads, schools, etc.  It is the same phenomenon that causes third world state-run oil companies to have their production fall off - instead of reinvesting their profits into upgrades and maintenace of their fields and infrastructure (as those short-term focused American oil companies do) they transfer the money into social giveaways that cement their political power.  Here is a great example from San Francisco:

In 2002, the San Francisco Chronicle revealed that the city had, for decades, been siphoning nearly $700 million from its Hetch Hetchy water system into the San Francisco General Fund instead of maintaining the aging aqueduct. Several mayors and boards of supervisors used that money to fund pet causes, and the Public Utilities Commission didn't say no. Unfortunately, spending maintenance money elsewhere doesn't diminish the need for maintenance. By 2002, the water system was in such desperate condition that voters were asked to pass a $3.6 billion bond measure to make overdue fixes. Obligingly, they did "” who doesn't like water? Since then, the projected costs have swelled by $1 billion. So far.

My favorite line:

"San Francisco is Disneyland for adults, or a place people go until they grow up."

Eww, Yuck, I missed this

Via TJIC, from that California homeschooling court decision, as reported in the San Francisco Chronicle:

"A primary purpose of the educational system is to train school children in good citizenship, patriotism and loyalty to the state and the nation as a means of protecting the public welfare," the judge wrote, quoting from a 1961 case on a similar issue.

Mistrust of Individual Decision-Making

In my post on "Respecting Individual Decision-Making",  which to-date I consider my favorite post, I wrote:

As a capitalist and believer in individual rights, one of the things
I notice a lot today is just how many people do not trust individual
decision-making.  Now, I do not mean that they criticize other people's
decisions or disagree with them -- in a free society, you can disagree
with anybody about anything.  I mean that they distrust other people's
free, private decision-making so much that they want the government to

Interestingly, most people don't think of themselves as advocating
government interference with people's private decisions.  However, if
you ask them the right questions, you will find that they tend to fall
into one of several categories that all want the government to
intervene in individual decision-making in some way:  nannies,
moralists, technocrats, and progressive/socialists.  Though the
categories tend to overlap, they are useful in thinking about some of
the reasons people want to call in the government to take over parts of
people's lives.

I then spent a lot of time with examples from each category.  On Sunday, Keith Thompson in the San Francisco Chronicle (of all places) wrote an article about his disaffection with the left, which said in part:

A certain
misplaced loyalty kept me from grasping that a view of individuals as morally
capable of and responsible for making the principle decisions that shape their
lives is decisively at odds with the contemporary left's entrance-level view
of people as passive and helpless victims of powerful external forces, hence
political wards who require the continuous shepherding of caretaker elites.

I'm not sure that he and I are in exactly the same place, but we are both looking for allies who are consistent in their defense of classical liberal values and individual rights.

In a related post, Mickey Kaus, who I seldom read because he spends more time than I care on inside-the-beltway political tactics and media stuff, has an interesting related post about the left and trusting people to do right by their own lives.  Kaus resists permalinks, but the gist is:

Two good critiques of the ubiquitous, left-pleasing menace, George Lakoff--by Marc Cooper and Noam Scheiber. Oddly, neither attacks Lakoff at what would seem to be his central weak point, namely his conflation of politics and parenting--identifying "conservative" values with "the strict father" and "liberal" values with the "nurturant parent."

Is a country really like a family? Isn't that an idea with a ... checkered
history? A family is a relationship between inherently unequal,
not-completely-free people--parents and children. A country, at least
in one American conception, is the relationship of equal, autonomous
people. Using the family as the template for politics stacks the deck against social equality (the value I'd suggest as the liberal touchstone). For one thing, it lends itself all too easily to the condescending liberal notion of compassion,
an anti-populist idea if there ever was one. It's also horribly
misleading as a guide to practical policies--no wonder that when
Scheiber asks Lakoff about President Clinton's welfare reform, Lakoff
responds "Why did he have to do that? ... I still don't understand it
fully." In Lakoff's mind, Clinton wasn't changing the welfare system,
he was beating his family's children! Aren't there values that aren't
family values?

A good example of that in recent debate has been social security.  As I argued before:

Advocates for keeping forced savings programs like Social Security in
place as-is by necessity argue that the average American is too stupid,
too short-sighted, and/or too lazy to save for retirement without the
government forcing them.  Basically the argument is that we
are smarter than you, and we are going to take control of aspects of
your life that we think we can manage better than you can
.  You are
too stupid to save for retirement, too stupid to stop eating fatty
foods, too stupid to wear a seat belt, and/or too stupid to accept
employment on the right terms -- so we will take control of these
decisions for you, whether you like it or not.  For lack of a better
word, I call this intellectual welfare.

Given these fairly accurate descriptions of the state of liberalism in America, it is ironic that several weeks ago, Kevin Drum made the following observation:

Whenever I talk about the underlying principles that should guide liberals, as
I did a couple of days ago,
one of the ideas that always pops up is privacy
rights. In fact, it comes up so often that it strikes me that we're missing a
bet by not making a bigger deal out of it.

The reason, Mr. Drum, is that a true privacy right defined as you are considering it (in particular, one defined broadly enough to give women an absolute right to abortion) would undermine much of the left's statist agenda.   A true privacy right would force the government to respect individual free decision-making, and require that the government allow individuals to make what elites might consider are bad decisions for themselves. 

Does the Left really want broad privacy rights, or just a constitutional justification for abortion?  If they really want a general primacy of a woman's decision-making over their bodies, why do they support abortion yet oppose letting women choose breast augmentation or the use of Vioxx?  Why do the same leftist politicians that oppose parental approval or even notification for teenage abortion simultaneously support requiring parental permissions for teenagers to use tanning salons?  Why do they resist random searches for terrorists but support such searches to enforce seat belt laws?

As I wrote here,

A true privacy right would allow us complete freedom over who we sleep
with, what we do with our bodies, where we work, and what we pay for
goods.  And, not incidentally, how we choose to invest for our
retirement.  Both parties want the government to control parts of our
lives, so don't expect either Conservatives or liberals to be pushing
the privacy issue very hard.

The government is not our parent, not our boss, not our priest, and not our partner.  It is our servant.  Unfortunately, a large element behind creeping statism in this country is a desire by both left and right to "correct" individual decision-making, even when those decisions affect no one but the actor himself.