Sunday, October 3, 2010

California’s Third-World Budget

Word of a budget deal came from Sacramento last night. The California budget process, though delayed longer than ever, seemed more matter-of-fact this time around. The big difference from the last two years, I think, was that no one was shocked at just how bad the budget was this time. Everyone was ready to negotiate over the kind of compromises that Central American governments were faced with in the 1980s. “No money for tires for the buses? Well, I guess we knew that.”

Based on the last two years, it’s fair to guess that the new California budget was put together mainly by eliminating lots of essentials, things that really are needed, probably not tires, but things like that that didn’t have anyone speaking up for them in the state capital.

It’s fitting that the new book Third World America, which warns of the declining position of ordinary people in the United States, was written by a Californian. Arianna Huffington writes, in her post introducing the book, about the disappearing middle class:

What became clear while writing the book is that the decline of the middle class was no accident. Middle-class America didn’t suddenly lose its mojo. It was the result of tricks and traps. Tricks in the ways we financed our homes. Traps in the ways credit-card companies used hidden fees and fine print and skyrocketing interest rates to get their hands on our money, driving more and more people into debt.

Here’s the bottom line: The fix is in.

Huffington calls for political reform but cautions against waiting for the system to start working again:

At the same time, this moment in history demands that we stop waiting on others — especially others living in Washington — to solve the problems and right the wrongs of our times.

Indeed, the new America won’t be built by people who sit around and wait for the government to fix itself. Anyone who takes that approach will just absorb one punch in the gut after another, like a California budget that’s 99 days late and has had the common sense stripped out of it. In the meantime, the more forward-looking Americans are working harder than ever, not just to keep up, but to make new things possible. Anyone who has a sense of history has to know that extraordinary things will come out of this effort.