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California Is The First Failed State

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California tried. And then it failed. Uniquely charged by its constitution to guarantee the “happiness” of its residents – the state empowered its people to demand by referendum whatever they wanted to spend money on – from better schools to bigger prisons and to refuse by referendum to pay the bills. A legislature paralyzed by the absence of a workable middle – and a requirement for a 2/3 vote to impose taxes – combined finally to dig the state into a possibly inescapable hole. Having now earned the lowest bond rating of any of the 50 states, the rates it pays to borrow keep getting higher. Yet borrowing seems to be all California can do to get through from day to day. That is what is known as The Road to Bankruptcy. “Happiness” thus engineered is doomed to collapse. The question is whether California is a special case–with a uniquely dysfunctional political culture–or a bellwether of failure soon to come to other high-spending states near you.

The Debaters

For the motion

Andreas Kluth

Writer, The Economist

has been writing for the Economist since 1997 and currently covers California and the western states from Los Angeles. In previous assignments, he... Read More

Bobby Shriver

Member, Santa Monica City Council

Was elected to the Santa Monica City Council by the highest percentage of voters in that city’s 120-year history in 2004. Re-elected in 2008, he... Read More

Sharon Waxman

Editor-in-Chief, Founder, and CEO of TheWrap.com

Is editor in chief, founder, and CEO of TheWrap.com, a primary news source focused on the business of entertainment and media. She is an award-winning... Read More

Against the motion

Gray Davis

37th Governor of California

Joseph "Gray" Davis was overwhelmingly elected the 37th governor of California in 1998, winning 58% of the vote. As Governor, he made education a... Read More

Van Jones

Former Special Advisor, White House Council for Environmental Quality

Worked from March to September 2009 as the special advisor for green jobs at the White House Council for Environmental Quality, where he developed... Read More

Lawrence O'Donnell

Senior Political Analyst, MSNBC

Is a senior political analyst for MSNBC and an Emmy-winning producer and writer of NBC’s The West Wing. From 1993 through 1995, O’Donnell was the... Read More

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The Research

The Research

Decade of Crisis Obscured Gains in the ‘Green' Sector

F. Noel Perry
December 27, 2009

Why California is Still America's Future

Michael Grunwald
October 23, 2009

Failed State

William Voegeli
December 17, 2009
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