In California, the Anniversaries of Two Big Ballot Initiatives Go Unreported

University-of-CaliforniaThe media usually love to celebrate the anniversary of the passage of a major law or policy shift. During 2016 in California, however, they took a pass on mentioning two key milestones.

November 5 marked 20 years since California voters approved Proposition 209 — also known as the California Civil Rights Initiative — by a margin of 54 to 46 percent. This measure ended racial, ethnic and gender preferences in state-college admissions, state employment and state contracting. Opponents claimed that Prop. 209 would bring on the end of affirmative action, but state colleges and universities could still cast the widest possible net for admissions and extend a hand to minority students on an economic basis.

The disaster that opponents predicted would result from Proposition 209 never occurred. As Thomas Sowell noted in his 2013 book Intellectuals and Race, declines in minority enrollment at UCLA and Berkeley were offset by increases at other University of California campuses. More important, the number of African American and Hispanic students graduating from the UC system went up, including a 55 percent increase in those graduating in four years with a GPA of 3.5 or higher. Still, critics maintain that Proposition 209 harmed “diversity.” In bureaucratic parlance, “diversity” means that all institutions should precisely reflect the racial or ethnic proportions of the population. If they don’t, the reason must be deliberate discrimination, and the only remedy is government action — namely, racial and ethnic preferences of the type that the University of California imposed before Proposition 209.

The proportionality dogma isn’t law, yet politically correct administrators believe that some groups are “overrepresented,” that is, there are “too many” of some kinds of people on campus. This usually means Asians, targets of much discrimination in California history. In recent years, UC campuses have bulked up on high-salaried diversity bureaucrats. In similar style, the city of Sacramento has created a new position for a “diversity manager.” Politicians have also deployed measures such as the 2012 Senate Constitutional Amendment 5, sponsored by West Covina Democrat Ed Hernandez, who claimed it would ensure that universities would “reflect the diversity of the state.” Asian groups cried foul, and Assembly Speaker John Pérez, a Los Angeles Democrat, returned SCA 5 to the Senate without a vote.

The 30th anniversary of another historic California ballot measure passed without notice in November. On November 4, 1986, California voters passed Proposition 63, the Official Language of California Amendment. This measure directs the state legislature to “preserve the role of English as the state’s common language” and refrain from “passing laws which diminish or ignore the role of English as the state’s common language.” Seventy-three percent of California voters approved the measure, a landslide by any definition, and it’s still on the books. So what has the government of California done over the last 30 years to ensure that the democratic will of the people was respected? Nothing; they ignored it. “In short, state legislators and public officials acted as if Prop. 63 never existed,” wrote Orange County Register columnist Gordon Dillow in 2006. As this writer, an immigrant, can testify, some level of proficiency in English is a requirement for American citizenship, which, in turn, is a requirement for voting. Yet, in 2016, the California voter guide came in English and, count ‘em, six other languages: Spanish, Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Tagalog, and Vietnamese. With 17 propositions to translate into seven languages, the voter guide packed the heft of a phone book.

A raft of stories accompanied October’s tenth anniversary of the passage of California’s “historic climate law,” yet not a single one commemorated the passage of successful propositions to end racial quotas and establish English as the official state language. Sadly, the Golden State’s political class and old-line establishment media remain out of touch with the people.

Lloyd Billingsley is the author of Bill of Writes: Dispatches from the Political Correctness Battlefield and Barack ‘em Up: A Literary Investigation.

This piece was originally published by City Journal online

What you don’t know hurts more in politics than markets

There is an old expression that “what you don’t know won’t hurt you.” Unfortunately, it is not true. Further, when it comes to economic misunderstanding, it is far more likely to harm Americans in their political choices than their market choices.

thomas-sowellThomas Sowell, in Knowledge and Decisions, laid out why. In market competition:

Economic knowledge need not be articulated to the consumer, but is conveyed — summarized — in the prices and qualities of goods. The consumer may have no idea at all — or even a wrong idea — as to why one product cost less and serves his purpose better; all he needs is that end result itself. Someone must of course have the specific knowledge of how to achieve that result. What is crucial to economic competition is that better and more accurate knowledge on the part of the producer is a decisive competitive advantage, regardless of whether the consumer shares any part of the knowledge.

In political competition, however:

Political knowledge is conveyed by articulation, and its accurate transmission through political competition depends upon the preexisting stock of knowledge and understanding of the receiving citizen. … In political competition, accurate knowledge has no such decisive competitive advantage.

In other words, as long as consumers can choose which suppliers’ goods better satisfy their preferences and situations, misunderstanding the processes involved does not keep them from being well-served by market competition. In contrast, voters must understand how things will actually work to evaluate politicians’ promises.

In markets, “prices convey effective knowledge of inherent constraints.” In contrast, “ballots do not … there are no constraints on my voting for … options simultaneously desired [but] unrealizable from the outset.” To make it worse, “no small part of the political art consists in misstating options and in trying to give them the appearance of simultaneously satisfying competing claims when they cannot be satisfied in reality.” Consequently, “The competition among political groups does not therefore bring to bear more accurate knowledge, as in economic competition, but promotes exaggerated hopes and fears.”

Today, for those who believe freer trade harms people rather than creating mutual gains, promises of “cracking down” or imposing higher tariffs on foreign products appears attractive. For those who believe that they earn less because “the 1 percent” earn too much, rather than that market incomes reflect added value provided to others, punitive taxation appears attractive. For those who think various workplace amenities, such as paid leave, come out of employers’ pockets, rather than from workers’ compensation packages (once there has been time to adjust), mandating those benefits appears attractive. For those who think higher minimum wages will benefit “the poor” with few other effects, rather than helping some and hurting others, including those who lose their jobs, hours worked, on-the-job training, etc., as well as all consumers in higher prices, they appear attractive. But in each of these cases, and many others, appearances are deceiving the ill-informed.

Thomas Sowell recognized that “Perhaps the greatest achievement of market economies is in economizing on the amount of knowledge needed to produce a given economic result.” However, he also recognized “That is also their greatest political vulnerability,” which we are seeing acted out before our eyes. The public, benefitting from vast and varying market arrangements without understanding them, can be lured by siren songs of something for nothing, because they don’t see how it undermines those irreplaceable voluntary arrangements which do reliably serve them.

Gary M. Galles is a professor of economics at Pepperdine University, an adjunct scholar at the Ludwig von Mises Institute, a research associate of the Independent Institute, and a member of the FEE faculty network. His books include Apostle of Peace (2013), Faulty Premises, Faulty Policies (2014) and Lines of Liberty (2016).