Friday, July 18, 2003

Dreaming On

Any post ( “California Dreaming”, below ) that begins with a joke about Canada and ends with a surfing reference probably shouldn’t be taken too seriously. And yet, I think I have a point. If we think about bad local government as a tax on the citizenry, the magnitude of this tax is small relative to other things that determine the quality of life. Which is why I suggested that political theory, in the pragmatic sense of how to design a government so that it functions well, seems not to be a major concern. Of course, government design ties into the bigger question of political theory: what should be the purview of government? As Mike correctly points out, the world has had some bad experiences with crazy political theories (and individuals), but the national debate is not whether we should turn the US into North Korea, it’s whether we should turn it into Canada.

Now, this could matter. GDP per capita in Canada is substantially less than in the United States (take this kind of data with a grain of salt, but it is fine for rough comparisons). And in part, this gap is due to differences in government policies. But let’s not get carried away about how bad it is. I would be happy living in Canada, and indeed, if Vancouver had Los Angeles’s weather, I would prefer it. Of course, this is personal preference - my version of the good life includes sun and the ocean - others may prefer wilderness, or traditional big cities, or whatever, but in any case, it is rarely differences in governments that drives us.

Maybe people in California care less than elsewhere (I know people in DC do care, but I’ve lived inside the Beltway, and its not like anywhere else). I really think that these issues rationally do not matter much for the average person (and since we are writing about this for fun, we are definitely not average). A policy that wastes 50 billion dollars per year still only moves us only a fraction of the way to Canada and can be made up with less than 1% growth in GDP per capita. Of course, there is no reason to do bad policies, and there is the whole Everett Dirkson thing, but I’m not surprised that people do not get excited about political issues.

Oh, and I had some other comments, but the weather is too nice and I think I’ll go to the beach :)

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