Bryan Caplan  

Cut Cali

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Arnold should enjoy Jacob Lyles' proposed initiative to split California into two new states:
Every single incumbent Democrat running for reelection to the state legislature won his race, including a dead guy. In this election cycle politically active Californians were most concerned that Republicans would screw up the state. It is true that the Republican Party of California is a sad lot, but outside of a Governator or two they haven't wielded serious power in longer than I have been alive. It takes a strange sort of mass delusion to worry about the drunks in the back seat more than the drunks driving the bus. And then reelect all the drunks driving the bus.

Which is why I propose that we cut the state in half...

We'll draw a line straight across the middle of the state. San Diego will be the new southern capital, suiting its popular nickname as "The Sacramento of the South". The two halves can fight over who has to take Fresno.

The point:

Now I know some readers may have doubts that this will do any good. Won't two insane states be twice as bad as one? They will get two more senators. And those senators will screw up national policies for everybody else.

But California governance will improve for two reasons. One argument comes from the standard case for federalism. Large, remote bureaucracies are harder for citizens to monitor than small, close ones. They are also inherently less efficient. The overhead needed to provide public services scales super-linearly with the number of people served. At some scale the overhead generates its own overhead and bureaucracy becomes a self-replicating grey goo.


A second argument for splitting California in two comes from the late economist Mancur Olson. Olson argued that governments built up cruft over time, like an artery gradually hardening under the assault of fast food dinners. This crust is formed by special interest groups convincing politicians to stick narrow laws onto the books for their own benefit. Eventually the law is all crust and no substance, its thousands of pages loses any rational basis it once had and becomes an anchor on economic growth.

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COMMENTS (11 to date)
cassander writes:

California can't be split. The entire state functions as a giant siphon, shunting water from the wet north to the densely populated south. There is no way to divide it in two.

Robert Johnson writes:

The proposal to split CA in two is an old and tired one. It get's trotted out every 5 or 6 years, and is quickly forgotten.


The north isn't wet either. But back when the water rights and infrastructure were being built the need for water in the north was slim (very small population). The 'theft' of 'our' water is a source of never-ending frustration for residents of the north.

Simon K writes:

Only two? I'd go for at least four.

Watch the open primary process, though - if you want better politics in California its the only real hope. That way we might get a choice better than that between the corrupt incumbent and an unelectable Republican.

Lord writes:

It was Republicans that wrote off California after Prop 13 gave a minority the power to block. Content to block, they appeal to only the right third of the electorate. While they still can block taxes, they can no longer block the budget, decreasing their power significantly. They will have to win elections if they want a real say. Open primaries will reshape the process considerably providing real challengers bypassing the apparatchiks.

Lars P writes:

Great idea, but 3 or 5 states would have a better chance. The Republicans will never allow 1 blue state to become 2 blue states, but 2 blue + 1 red or 3 + 2 would be politically neutral.

It takes a strange sort of mass delusion to worry about the drunks in the back seat more than the drunks driving the bus. And then reelect all the drunks driving the bus.

Another similarity between Ireland and California !

John writes:

What's the underlying problem here? To my mind, it's not the dysfunction of the capital or the large population, it's the reduced representation of the populace.

Each state representative has some 640,000 constituents and control of billions of dollars. Though I cringed at the thought originally, more representatives would be the better way to go. My voice is muted not only by my multitudinous fellow citizens but by PACs and lobbyists (who get a disproportionate voice). The representative/constituent ratio is defacto disenfranchisement.

Another answer to Proposition X is to reinforce Federalism. The federal government has an inordinate say in each state's affairs.

Arnie writes:

Simon K: well said. How about 6! Seriously.

John: CA has the highest state legislator/constituent ratio in the country. Great point.

Bryan: since I live in the central valley, I loved your line:

The two halves can fight over who has to take Fresno
You are 100% correct about us. I have taught here for 25 years and 90% of my students have to leave just to find a job.

cehwiedel writes:

Splitting California in half east to west ignores voting patterns. Most of the "blue" part of the state circles San Francisco and Los Angeles. (Tiny Alpine County is an anomaly to me.)

I'd go for six states:
- North Coastal California;
- Bay Area California (San Francisco & its immediate neighbors);
- Gold Coast (south of SF to the LA County line);
- Los Angeles;
- South Coastal California (Orange County south to the Mexican border);
- then a single long inland state (that would win the arm-wrestling contest for Fresno).

Of those six new states, only Bay Area California & Los Angeles would be blue. The rest would be red.

Dianne Feinstein & Barbara Boxer could slide right in as Senators from the Bay Area.

George K writes:

I agree that additional options bear potential with California being the eighth largest economy in the world. If California were decentralized into, say, ten political jurisdictions, then jurisdictions compete to attract residents. The competition occurs due to the desire to encourage new businesses to start up for maximizing tax revenue. Jurisdictions encourage businesses to start up by minimizing their regulatory requirements, which lower total expenses. One jurisdiction like Sacramento benefits by reducing regulations if the Bay Area continues to push forward with their regulations. This induces regulation reform by motivating Sacramento to continue pulling businesspersons away from the Bay Area while making the Bay Area stop the outflow.

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