Friday, January 16, 2009

What If They Threw A (Budget) Crisis And Nobody Came?

When you work as close to state government as I do, it's possible to inherit a disease I call "Capitol Myopia." The symptoms include:

- a massive overestimation in the assumed importance of state government in the minds of Californians
- a massive overestimation in the reliance Californians have on state government
- a massive underestimation in the amount of contempt Californians have for their state government

Over the past few months I've written some tongue-in-cheek that take for granted the consequences of budget paralysis in California.

I'm rethinking that paradigm.

The truth is, most Californians rely directly on the state government for very little. If not for a visit to the DMV or a speeding ticket, they would have no interaction whatsoever. Most major regulatory work was completed in the 1970s and 1980s, with any benefits long since realized and taken for granted. Most Californians have no clue what their government actually does anymore.

No, this is not a PR problem. A majority of people pay no taxes anyway, and thus have no reason to care. There's a complete disconnect. During good economic times, government is able to leverage that disconnect to achieve their own ends, but the knife cuts both ways, and during bad times the citizenry is unconcerned and unmoved.

Which may be the right attitude. "Who cares if there's a budget crisis? Cut as much as you have to, just don't raise my taxes." Because most people will be just fine with a much smaller state government. Hell, they probably won't even notice the difference.

From the state of the state today:

Our citizens do not believe that we in government are in touch with their needs. Now, these needs are not unreasonable, may I remind you. At the end of the day most people do not require a great deal from their government. They expect just simply the fundamentals. They want to live in safety, they want good education for their children, they want jobs, they want to breathe clean air, they want water when they turn on the faucet, they want electricity when they turn on the switch and they want those things delivered efficiently and economically. One of the reasonable expectations that the public has of government is that it will produce a sound and balanced budget.


Darth Toll said...

Speaking of turning the water on, before the formation of El Dorado Irrigation in 1925, a lot of folks had wells and most of these performed adequately for generations. But EID, along with the State and Feds, got many regulations passed concerning contaminants that were supposedly in well water that made the water "unsafe". The real goal was to create a monopoly where you only had EID and no other choices. Now you can't dig a well at all if EID is available on your property.

The point is, we "depend" on the government only because they have made us dependent by stacking on layer after layer of onerous regulations that squeeze out private solutions. There's talk that Eldo may soon ban fireplace burning similar to how Sacto has banned it on some days. This makes folks dependent upon electric or gas monopolies to heat the house. But, of course, its all done under the guise of "clean energy" or "clean air" or some other high-sounding goal, but really its just about monopolies and control.

Here's a good post on marginal returns and how it relates to government:

"A friend is currently engaged in a huge renovation of a two-story hillside home, the key feature of which is a new concrete foundation. The city required him to hire a special private-industry inspector during the concrete pours to ensure that the concrete was being laid down in such a fashion that it would reach the specified strength (3000 psi, etc.).

Now this makes sense when you're constructing a 20-story building, but a wood-frame two-story house is a comparatively lightweight structure. The concrete and reinforcing bar (rebar) in this foundation was massively over-engineered (i.e. easily enough to support a 4-5 floor structure), so the question arises: what benefit accrued from the hundreds of dollars spent to hire this inspector?

One way to answer this is to ask:

1. how many two-story wood-frame dwellings collapsed in the past two major earthquakes due to catastrophic failure of their concrete foundations or retaining walls due to failure of the actual concrete? (i.e. not if the walls did not have enough rebar due to faulty engineering.)

Answer: zero.

2. how many residents were killed by the failure of foundations beneath two-story wood-frame dwellings in the past 100 years? How many were injured?

Answer: zero and zero.

So exactly what benefit results when the problem supposedly "solved"--loss of life due to collapsing foundations of two-story wood-frame homes due to failure of the concrete to reach specified strength--does not even exist?

This "overkill" is endemic to governmental regulations which have no feedback mechanism, either price (price is no object because the government isn't paying) or utility (we say this over-engineering is a good thing because it "lowers risk", even when we can't quantify the risk, because it's "free" for government to specify it)."

Anonymous said...

Certainly not much in support of regulation, but what's to keep you'all from selling your well water to LA and starving your neighbors?

Just saw a guy do a foundation like you describe, hired a moonlighting caltrans engineer off CL, who overengineered the steel so large, the concrete will have a hard time filling the voids. Large waste of resources. His engineering savings of $2k cost him about 50K I guess. But its only strong enough if its done correctly.

Many of the national homebuilders perform special inspections like this on standard stuff for a couple of reasons, quality assurance, liability insurance, and the fact that the junior superintendent doesn't know what to look for.

Special inspections are pretty standard on hillside or large retaining walls, thank god. There are so many incompetents AND do-it-yur-selfers out there.... I did witness a house fall down across the street from Home Depot on Madison a couple of years ago. Called the inspector a day before noticing missing bracing as I drove by... too late for the roof loader. Its for sale now, unfinished, REO.

Also witnessed a builder undercut the home next door with a 10' retaining wall, 5' away. Besides creating a huge liability, I would want lots of special inspections done there (of course, I would never buy the homes on either side of the wall).


Tom Stone said...

State Government does a piss poor job of serving the peopleLevee's? what Levee's?And sippn,I have to agree with you about "do it yourselfers" I have rebuilt and helped rebuild a number of older homes and multiunit structures in oakland built 1890-1940 and some of the things you see are terrifying,it is amazing that they did not explode,collapse or burn to the ground decades before I saw them.

Rob Dawg said...

- a massive underestimation in the amount of contempt Californians have for their state government

Contempt is the normal State of the State. What we have now is outright active hostility. Well deserved in my opinion.