News item: Gov. Jerry Brown recently labeled Republicans’ automatic opposition to any talk of increased taxes a “Pavlovian” response. The reference was to the great Russian scientist Ivan Pavlov, and his finding that the presence of food causes dogs to salivate.
Brown was right about the Republicans. But he was also unfair in just picking on them. California governance is a sea of Pavlovian reactions, predictably triggered by all forms of political red meat. And Brown is among those who react in Pavlovian ways.
Here is a list of the top 10 Pavlovian responses in California politics.
10. We need to invest in green jobs. The Democratic answer to any attempt to broaden talk about job-creation to uncomfortable areas. It’s a cousin to a Republican Pavlovian answer — “the reason we don’t have more jobs is too much regulation and taxes” — triggered by discussion of the connection between job creation and public investments in education, health care, and infrastructure.
9. “Stop spending all the state’s money on those damn prisons and prison guards.”
This is the public reaction, as evidenced in polls, when asked about the source of spending problems in the state. California voters, who have a high opinion of their own political knowledge even though they don’t understand the basics of how their system of government works, believes prisons is the number one state budget spending item. The correct answer is schools.
8. The state’s revenues problems would be fixed if the rich paid their fair share.
This comes from liberal Pavlovs, who have a point, since the rich have most of the money. But the state’s troubles are not merely the result of an absence of revenues. The budget, tax, and other systems are broken. And progressive taxation creates volatility, which adds to the difficulty of balancing the budget in California, particularly in the absence of big rainy day funds to capture the extra funds in good years to cover the bad. Of course, “volatility” has become the Pavlovian response of many on the center and the rich when someone argues for more Progressive taxation.
7. We need pay-go, performance-based budget, zero-based budgeting, another rainy day fund, and daily colonoscopies.
The technocrats’ and centrists’ Pavlovian response to conversation about the budget. Yes, the state budget is hard to manage because it already has so many rules. But if smart technocrats and centrists develop new rules, everything will be OK.
6. Redistricting and top-two primary are restoring democracy to California
Centrists and media have this Pavlovian response if anyone ever asks about “progress” and “good news” in fixing California’s problems. The claim that these two reforms make any difference whatsoever are advanced in the absence of any real evidence that they alter the partisan make-up of a legislative body in a state with California’s peculiar geography and too small legislature.
5. We must stop these cuts to the schools. Protect Prop 98.
The Pavlovian response of a school lobby that seeks to protect Prop 98, a complicated funding mechanism that has been in place during California’s precipitous decline in public support for public education. When you point out that Prop 98 hasn’t worked, you’re told that’s because of other interests poking holes in Prop 98. The logic is circular.
4. It’s all Prop 13’s fault.
Liberal Pavlovian, and also very strong Pavlovian reaction when out-of-state-commentators consider California. Prop 13 is part of the state’s problems, but it’s only a part. And the heart of the problem with Prop 13 isn’t property tax receipts, as liberals suggest, but the distorting, centralizing effect it has had on California’s entire system of government. A centralized system that liberals as well as conservative have participated in constructing.
3. It’s all the public employee unions’ fault.
By far the favorite Pavlovian response on the right, and on even some in the center and center-left, to any discussion about California’s problems. Indeed, the right goes right to the public employees to short-circuit any real thinking about how to fix the larger systems – and to stop any scrutiny of conservatives’ own role in creating California’s strange and radical system. This doesn’t mean public employee unions aren’t part of the state’s problems. They undoubtedly are. But they are only part of the problem.
2. We can’t fix Prop 13—the people won’t let us.
Citing surveys is the way of ending arguments and real thought about fixing California. And when it comes to conversations about remaking California’s failed governing system, any suggested change to the centralized system is easily dismissed with references to Prop 13 and polling. It’s just too scary.
1. Constitutional revision or any big redesign of California’s system is unrealistic.
Unrealistic is the ultimate insult in poll-besotted California politics. This is how the state’s political and media elites respond to any set of ideas that might address California’s systemic challenges.