Intelligence Squared US Debate: California is the First Failed State
California tried. And then it failed. Uniquely charged by its constitution to guarantee the “happiness” of its residents the state empowered its people to demand by referendum whatever they wanted to spend money on — from better schools to bigger prisons and to refuse by referendum to pay the bills. A legislature paralyzed by the absence of a workable middle — and a requirement for a 2/3 vote to impose taxes — combined finally to dig the state into a possibly inescapable hole. Having now earned the lowest bond rating of any of the 50 states, the rates it pays to borrow keep getting higher. Yet borrowing seems to be all California can do to get through from day to day. That is what is known as The Road to Bankruptcy. “Happiness” thus engineered is doomed to collapse. The question is whether California is a special case—with a uniquely dysfunctional political culture—or a bellwether of failure soon to come to other high-spending states near you. ABC News Nightline correspondent John Donvan moderates the debate.