After his first incarnation as California governor in the 1970s and ’80s, Jerry Brown spent a few years in the 1990s as a radio talk-show host. His Oakland-based “We the People” programs showcased “Gov. Moonbeam’s” oddball philosophical self, as he interviewed left-leaning guests and hashed out ideas that still remain outside the political mainstream. They were pretty entertaining, sometimes infuriating and often a little strange.
In one article posted on the radio show’s website, Brown said this about Disney World: “Like the triumph of McDonaldization, Disney-fication of existence promises certainty, predictability and wonderfully sanitary conditions. Few will worry about soil loss or global warming or an overcrowded world haunted by hungry people if they are infantilized and soothed.”
When Oakland Mayor Brown ran for California attorney general in 2006, this columnist questioned him about some of the viewpoints he expressed in those shows. It was his role as a radio host to explore ideas, he explained, which seemed reasonable enough, although it was clear Brown tended to explore only certain ideas. He often focused on looming ecological destruction and consumerism. He talked of economics in moral terms.
Fast forward to earlier this week. “Economically, minimum wages may not make sense,” he said, as he signed into law a measure that boosts the bottom-rung wage to $15 an hour by 2020. Brown had previously opposed the hike, for the obvious nuts-and-bolts reasons, but then dressed up his change-of-heart in “We the People”-like grandiosity: “Morally and socially and politically, they make every sense because it binds the community together and makes sure that parents can take care of their kids in a much more satisfactory way,” according to the Sacramento Bee.
“Work is part of living in a moral community,” he added. “And a worker is worthy of his or her hire and to be worthy means they can support a family.”
American Spectator readers surely understand the perils of a minimum-wage increase. It drives up the cost of labor and makes it tougher for people who need a foot in the door — young, unskilled people and minorities in particular — to find work. It will exacerbate business flight and put a damper on those who would otherwise start new enterprises. It will accelerate the use of self-service kiosks. It will drive up wages for everyone else, thus increasing the cost of goods and services. It will put more pressure on local governments and on welfare rolls.
Best-case scenario: In six years, the real market-driven wage will top 15 bucks and the policy will have had no impact whatsoever. But that’s a likelihood mainly in urban areas. Smaller towns and cities will no doubt bear the brunt of this policy. If a policy designed to help people doesn’t make sense economically, then how can it make sense morally or socially? Unemployment and welfare use don’t help parents better take care of their children or bind communities together.
In his latest incarnation as governor, Brown has reinvented himself as the last adult in Sacramento — someone who puts the brakes on the Legislature’s insatiable desire to tax and spend and regulate. But his increasingly unhinged rhetoric and recent actions suggest there’s nothing new under the dome.
Last Monday, Brown held a news conference with labor-union leaders and some Democratic legislators announcing that wage deal. With the deal struck, the measure flew through the legislative process. Brown signed the law this week. It applies to businesses with 26 or more employees, while smaller companies get an extra year to comply. It gradually increases the wage until it hits $15 and, from that point on, ties it to the inflation rate.
On the surface, Brown portrayed himself as someone who negotiated a middle way. “The law’s most immediate practical effect will be to end a pair of union-backed initiative drives that appeared headed for November’s general election,” reported City Journal’s Ben Boychuk. “Brown, ever the cautious progressive, thought the union’s proposal went too far, too fast.”
In reality, the difference between the union measures and the Brown law are slim. The unions would have kicked in the raise sooner and the Brown measure has a provision that allows the state to suspend increases during economic calamity. That’s window dressing. The governor simply caved to his closest allies, the state’s public-sector unions. At least his minimum-wage rhetoric isn’t as loopy as his global-warming talk.
At a Vatican climate-change event last July, Brown stated: “We have to take measures against an uncertain future which may well be something no one ever wants. We are talking about extinction. We are talking about climate regimes that have not been seen for tens of millions of years. We’re not there yet, but we’re on our way.” And there’s nothing to suggest the governor’s environmental policies have moderated in any way.
On Wednesday, Brown was standing by the Klamath River near the Oregon border to announce the latest step in an ongoing plan to demolish four dams. “This historic agreement will enable Oregon and California and the interested parties to get these four dams finally removed and the Klamath River restored to its pristine beauty,” he said, regarding this long-controversial idea. Critics say the dam removal will undermine the local economy — a rural area already devastated by the continuing loss of resource-based jobs.
This is nothing new. “Left standing, a redwood grove is a miracle of beauty and home to an incredible variety of beings; laid low by chain saws and the commodified minds of our time, it is transformed into tangible returns on investment — the economy, stupid!” Brown wrote years ago regarding a protest against a lumber company.
Economically speaking, removing dams and shutting down logging, mining, and resource industries might do even more destruction than a minimum-wage boost. But it certainly makes “social and political sense,” especially to California’s urban-based liberal political constituencies. The governor still is perceived as the last adult in Sacramento, and that’s true on some limited budget issues. But that’s mainly a better reflection of the dismal state of California’s politics.