News In Brief

California sunshine to blame for budget crisis?

Christina Huh Sep 14, 2010

Conor Friedersdorf points to the weather for the dicey financial situation the state of California is in, on Esquire’s politics blog.

On the third-floor balcony of my apartment near Venice, I sometimes read the Los Angeles Times, flabbergasted that the state’s pension system is catastrophically underfunded, or that the Bay Bridge is structurally unsound, or that colossal graft is costing taxpayers millions of dollars. Agitated and determined to take action, I lift my eyes from the article, gaze out across the landscape…and marvel at the palm trees bathed in golden light, a distant mountain ridge accentuating the horizon, a passing car with a surfboard strapped to the roof. What is there to get all f***ing upset about?

Indeed. But while Californians were working on our tans in the year-round sunshine, two Brown University professors studied how economic development is affected by a country’s “endowment” — weather, germs and crops (here’s PDF copy of the study). (Presumably, the study was researched on the East Coast, where things like sub-60 temperatures drive people indoors to contemplate Deep Issues such as this.) From the study:

For example, environments where crops are most effectively produced using large plantations will quickly develop political and legal institutions that protect the few landholders from the many peasants and may even feature slavery (Engerman and Sokoloff, 1997; Sokoloff and Engerman, 2000). Even when agriculture recedes from the economic spotlight, enduring institutions will continue to thwart competition and hence economic development.

Not quite sure if one can equate California with Burundi, but Friedersdorf says that there’s plenty of development research that connects hotter weathers with more dysfunctional countries (with an economy among the top 10 in the world, consider California its own country).

Friedersdorf also wonders if because of the better weather, there’s less maintenance to do — i.e. plowing snow out of the streets — so people don’t have as many reasons to wonder if something is wrong with the local or state government.

Perhaps the unusually cool summer this year is why people cared more about the corruption in the City of Bell?

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