Review: California Crackup

This is kind of a bad book review; I get wrapped around the axle of the authors’ political suggestions, so don’t expect a lot of writing discussion.

I forget how this came to my attention, but I know I was looking for a history of how California’s ballot propositions evolved. I should have paid more attention to Matthews’s and Paul’s subtitle: “How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It.” I saw it, but somehow was hoping I could focus on the history and keep an open mind for the fix. I didn’t do a very good job.

I did learn some history and some detail of how the current state of California state government. There are clear details and valid criticisms in the “How Reform Broke the Golden State” part. I did come back knowing more, but I still could use some more context.

The fix isn’t anything special to me. Even to a non-expert it seems kind of academically reasonable. Modify the voting system to produce a more balanced unicameral legislature that focuses on governing. And I grok the game theoretical benefits of the voting scheme that Matthews and Paul like. It’s a sound scheme and I understand it’s in use.

My skepticism comes from two fronts. First, any systemic solution is just a new set of rules to be gamed. It will work until someone does the work to exploit its attack surface. Secondly, a wholesale change like a new voting system seems like a non-starter to me. You’ve got to convince the folks who have secured power under the old system that they can do better under the new one. Since the selling point is to change that balance, it’s a tough sell. We can’t even seem agree on how to redistrict.

I would like to see a bunch more voting districts. It stuns me that the most populous county in the nation has 5 legislators. To me, the possibility that we’ve elected 5 people who can each balance the concerns of nearly 2 million constituents apiece is ludicrous on its face. So I’m even sympathetic to the idea. But if you’re one of the 5 people controlling 30 billion dollars, it’s tough to imagine letting go. Imaging a whole house of the state legislature going quietly into that good night is similarly unconvincing.

As a book, it’s a good description of what they think. I just disagree.

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