In my prior post The Bailout, Energy, and Nukes — Failure of the Elites and Populists Part 1 I discussed the failure of the elites to address anything significant, buoyed by nearly 60 years of economic good times and the ability to avoid making hard decisions.
But why haven’t the populists been able to push aside the elites, and have their way? Culture 11 points out that the populists can only block measures, but lack the strength to pass their own measure and sweep away the elites who oppose them. Why?
It’s helpful to look back on the last two gasps of populism, in California. Examining the history of Proposition 13, and Proposition 187, tells us a lot about why populism has failed.
Proposition 13 was the result of the California governing elites failing to control the growth of taxes, often forcing retired people out of their homes, as they became unable to pay ever-increasing taxes. Taxes, that in the aftermath of the Serrano v. Priest decision, were distributed equally to all school districts in California. Middle class families, though, could see easily that they could be forced out of their homes by taxes that had no limit. There was a large pool of angry, afraid, mostly White homeowners eager to limit the ability of the politicians to tax them out of their homes.
But Proposition 13 would have gone nowhere without both leaders, and widespread support. Howard Jarvis, retired newspaper man and small time manufacture, and Paul Gann, provided the leadership, including the grass-roots organization, the Taxpayers Association. The foot soldiers of Proposition 13, however, were mostly middle class, middle aged homeowners. Who reasonably feared being taxed out of their homes, in a time of flat or declining incomes and inflationary prices for almost everything.
California in 1978, was still a middle class, mostly white, state. Filled with people who mostly trusted each other, and participated in civic organizations like the Taxpayers Association. Populist political reform does not just happen, and requires both leaders and a “deep” organization to provide voter contact, phone banks, walking precincts, and the like. As well as elect supporters of populist programs and initiatives, and defeat opponents.
“Diversity” undermines this ability to form civic bonds, as Robert Putnam showed in his latest research. As he notes, in San Francisco and Los Angeles, only 30 percent of people trust each other, whereas that figure rises to 70-80% among North and South Dakota. The difference? The Dakotas are overwhelmingly white, and middle-working class white at that. Diversity, as Putnam’s study shows, makes people hunker down. Distrust each other, the media, people of their own race, other races, and less volunteering. The website Volunteering in America shows that cities that are ethnically and racially homogeneous have much higher rates of volunteering. Minneapolis and Salt Lake City are number one and number two, respectively, in rates of volunteering (39, 37%). Los Angeles is at the bottom, at #44, with only 22% of the population volunteering.
The California of 1978 more closely resembled that of Salt Lake City or Minneapolis, than the “diverse” city it is now, with everyone hunkered down, allowing the elites to move unopposed.
By contrast, sixteen years later, while Proposition 187 passed, easily, with almost 60% of the vote, State Senator Art Torres called it the “last gasp of White America in California.” He was proved quickly correct, as the courts found the political courage to overturn the measure, without facing populist fury, as Rose Bird was in 1986, when she was recalled (along with Cruz Reynoso and Joseph Grodin) from the California Supreme Court over her opposition to the death penalty and other anti-crime measures.
The difference between 1978’s populist wave and 1994’s populist wave is diversity, made worse by the lack of married couples, and a declining middle class. The Volunteering In America study has an interesting set of numbers: volunteering peaks between age 35 to 54, the prime years for people to get married, have children, and become homeowners. Suburban homeowners volunteer more than urban renters. President Clinton’s defense cuts devastated the Defense Industry in Southern California, causing many jobs to be lost as defense contractors consolidated. High paying jobs went away, and with them, many defense workers, who migrated to lower cost states such as Utah, Colorado, or Arizona.
In California, after Proposition 187 passed, outlawing public services to illegal aliens (very popular among a citizenry seeing themselves marginalized in their own state, by foreign nationals, there illegally and consuming most of the public services), politicians felt no heat in continuing to oppose it. Unlike Jerry Brown, who had opposed Proposition 13 as Governor, and upon it’s passage immediately set about to support it, seeing the power of the populists, California Governor Gray Davis ended the state’s appeals of court decisions overturning the proposition.
Lack of a large, robust, volunteer organization, leaders, and in particular low-level volunteer leaders guaranteed that Proposition 187 would be defeated. The same happened with California Proposition 209, prohibiting state institutions such as the University of California, from considering race, sex, or ethnicity. Yet Affirmative Action remains alive and well in all institutions, roundly ignored by political elites and the bureaucrats who follow them. Predictably, there are more lawsuits involving White and Asian students who allege a defacto Affirmative Action system discriminating against them in admissions to the University of California.
“Diversity,” plus the high cost of housing in places like California or the Chicago Metro Area, or the New York City metroplex, where water or deserts limit the housing stock, chases away much of the middle class, and makes what limited middle class that exists far less likely to cooperate to preserve populist gains through the initiative process. Throw in declining marriage rates as women making their own money prefer to forgo marriage altogether in favor of first, the single life, then single motherhood, and you have a very good explanation of why populism has failed.
Not just in California, but across America. The “Taxpayer Revolt” that swept the nation in the late 1970’s could not be replicated in today’s America, filled with isolated, ultra-hip yuppies jocking for position, power, and status in an endless mating dance (think “Friends” where the show never ends). Across Europe, the same conditions — limited housing stock in job centers like London, Paris, and Amsterdam, endless yuppie consumerism in relationships replacing middle class marriage and family, and most of all lots of alien immigrants that introduce “Diversity” and massive distrust, have limited sharply the ability of populists to sweep out elites who resist populist measures.
This has done elites no favors. Joe Biden, a Senator for 36 years, has no new insights into the world of nuclear proliferation, and rising energy prices threatening in tandem the fundamental power of the West. For that matter, neither does Barack Obama, heir to a tired, worn-out 1960’s radicalism, that was rejected by the people in the 1970’s and replaced by Ronald Reagan decisively in 1981. Nor, arguably, does John McCain have any new ideas on the subject either. Only Sarah Palin, an outsider, with no connections, and a tradition of populist reform, has new ideas. Drill for oil in the US now for well paying blue collar jobs, and better energy independence. It won’t solve everything all at once, but is an adult approach instead of wishing for a magic wand. It’s no accident of course, that Palin comes from “Last Frontier” Alaska, a place where populism still reigns, and it was possible for an outsider like herself to actually sweep from power her own Party’s sitting governor in a populist wave. Alaska’s affordable housing, and good paying blue collar jobs speak for itself in that regard.
This suggests, strongly, that any new ideas, and leaders, and grassroots organizations will come out of the Mountain West: Idaho, Utah, Montana, Wyoming. Places with a largely homogeneous, White, and middle-working class population. Able to build large trust networks, and volunteer organizations. With people mostly married, in un-hip and un-trendy cities like Boise, or Salt Lake, or Bozeman. It’s where the next Howard Jarvis, and Proposition 13 will come from.
All those other places? Too single, too hip, too isolated, and too distrustfully diverse to make a difference.