Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Terminating CalWorks' SSI and Food Assistance Helps Everyone

Governor Schwarzenegger’s May balanced budget proposal included almost 650 million in savings from Welfare Reform. These reforms were enacted for the rest of the United States back in the 1990’s, the last time the federal government had even a look at a balanced budget. The reforms are good for everyone. They will work for the individuals involved. They’ll work for the State of California, and they’ll help the nation.

“A mouse! Whisky (the cat) has a mouse!” my daughter shouted. Then I knew it was on when I heard, “the poor thing. It’s so scared.” Scenes of chasing daughter, cat, and mouse around the house leapt to mind. Thankfully, it actually fell to my oldest to perform the mouse salvation attempts. Twice he spared the mouse and released it to freedom, and twice within that hour Whisky ended up catching it again and dutifully returning the little gray rascal to the living room. The catch and release ritual must be the cat version of “fetch.” With one last superhuman effort my son, a prayer on his lips, released the mouse far beyond our farthest fence. Needless to say, by dinner word reached us that the missus had found Whisky with a dead mouse. When it comes to animals I tend to be Roman: “May I fare as well when my day comes,” I thought…

There is a point to this parable. Life is filled with paradox and with unintended consequences. The most merciful thing might have been to simply kick the cat out of the house with its mouse and let nature take its course. The unintended consequences often cut both ways. While on the one hand, who would suspect that people who are giving often reap the most out of life? On the other hand, grey beards will note that it is the choice of the easier path that most often damages the lives of people. The Governor’s May budget proposal on CalWorks is a study of such instructive paradoxes. For instance, $647 million dollars of the Governor’s Proposal eliminates programs California enacted in the 1990’s to counter Federal Welfare Reform. This includes reductions in monthly grants ($614 million) to $1,407 per couple, for blind, disabled, and elderly couples, and reductions ($35 million) in food assistance (State Funded Food Stamps) for legal immigrants. Even with a 24 billion dollar deficit, no one is talking about eliminating programs. Five hundred million of the reductions are simply bring one program to the very generous federal minimum levels, and the other $147 million are reductions to programs the federal government eliminated in the 1990’s. Even in California’s penury, her generosity to the poor abounds. However, one of the paradoxes, the unintended consequences of being exceedingly generous is that California has more than 30% of the nation’s welfare recipients while having only 11% of its population.

This unintended consequence arises because the Federal Welfare Reform program of the 1990’s worked. Individual programs had been piloted successfully in the states (unlike the liberal plans for health care reform) and then applied with significant freedoms for individual states to continue experimentation. The welfare rolls shrunk, employment rose and, lo, for a brief shining moment the deficit appeared almost balanced. Welfare Reform is good for people. Prosperity cannot begin without first being profitable to others. Millions of people prospered because of those reforms, but not in California. California, feeling kind-hearted towards her hapless poor, enacted program after program to counteract these successful reforms. Hence, the large welfare rolls (see also: Tom Blumer, “California Draggin…”)

The other reason for these unintended consequences is, ironically, that supply and demand works every time it’s tried, even in the welfare state. Welfare recipients flocked to California because of the looser eligibility requirements and the higher returns. The greater the return on one’s investment in the government became, the greater the demand for the government’s program. This last paradox is the reasons these reductions and reforms must occur now. As unemployment grows, the numbers of dislocated workers will likewise grow. California will have challenges enough without attracting trouble from the other 49. One final irony: because these reforms were not enacted when first suggested, there is a serious possibility that California will not use the TANF Emergency Funds allocated in the Stimulus Bill because welfare rolls will go down. One can only hope this holds true. The stimulus bill was supposed to keep unemployment at 8%... We’re at 10% and still climbing. California’s welfare rolls are rising more rapidly than any state in the Union except Florida’s.

Some complain that losing the federal TANF Emergency Funds is bad economics. After all, the stimulus funds will stimulate the economy. This is cave man logic borrowed from ne’r-do-well economists like John Maynard Keynes. It is only repeated today because such discredited formulations worked so well in fooling so many in years gone by. Increases in demand not accompanied by an increase in profitable employment only results in inflation. The demand stimulated by welfare payments is inflationary because the dollars are not backed by labor, they are "funny" money. The economic troubles of the day are caused by fear. People are frozen by fear. They cannot act. The Stimulus bill, the increasing nationalization of the private sector has shown the common man the abyss. Let California show a glimmer of light in this darkened land. Make the reforms California. Lose some stimulus money, and make a big show of giving it back. Petition the federal government to take those extra funds to pay down the principle on our national debt.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Reforming the U.C. System: Saving 170 Million Dollars

California funding for U.C. research projects is $675 million dollars a year. Even as the state budget has collapsed, the spending of real U.C. research dollars has increased. Much of this "research" shows little evidence of fiscal or moral profit for the citizens of California. War with this behemoth could save CAL Grant aide for California's students. This is a prize fight worthy of the governor's most Herculean efforts.

In an age in which Six Flags Magic Mountain seeks bankruptcy protection and California is already twenty billion in debt, the U.C. research budget should be pared back to its historic roots. The proposed 2009-2010 U.C. research budget was $653,045,000 (item #10). This is an increase (in a year of real cuts) of ten million dollars over the estimated 2008-2009 expenditures. A conservative goal for real streamlining would be to reduce spending by 10% from the 08-09 heights. That would be 65 million dollars in taxpayer savings. Hence, even conservative cuts in the U.C. research expenditures would result enough savings to keep the Parks and Recreation funding in place for 2009-2010 (70 million dollars, see a May proposal–p.2). In fact, some of the research grants seem to be little more than a taxpayer sponsored study of a day in the park. Consider, for instance, The Studies of Food and the Body Multi Campus Research Group, that "brings together faculty and graduate-student scholars in the humanities and social sciences …who are exploring the relationship between food, the body and culture." I hear they even serve wine.

Whatever the relative merits of an increased awareness of food, body, and culture by the smartest people in California, the elimination of less critical research may, in turn, focus some of the mostly highly trained research minds in the state to more immediate issues. Though, in real dollars, the state funding for U.C. research increased in 2008, the legislature reduced the growth in all "line item research projects" by 10% (page 67 column b). Obviously, if a 10% reduction resulted in a ten million dollar increase in funding, at the very least the legislature must reduce the 09-10 "line item research projects" by more than 20%.

However, Governor Schwarzenegger plainly feels that the time for conservative budget cuts has passed. Is it possible to generate the $170 million in savings the Governor seeks through the elimination of Cal Grants (page 12) simply by streamlining the U.C. research budget? The list of multi-campus research programs reveals that the dead weight in U.C. research funding is considerable. Instead of seeking across the board cuts, the legislature and the governor should evaluate every U.C. research project and seek to terminate each one. The list of recommendations for project terminations should be part of the rationale presented to the U.C. when the total dollar amounts of U.C. research savings is sent to the governor. This emergency invasion into the province of the Board of Regents should be done with clearly articulated and legislated principles.

The first principle should be that, since all acknowledge that the historic charter of the U.C. system in California, including its research, has been the envy of the free world: all research should be conducted according to the U.C.’s own historic models. According to this principle new research programs, programs begun since 2005, that are not directly related to breakthroughs in math, science or medicine should be completely eliminated. All research programs begun after 2,000 that are not related to math, science, or medicine, should be evaluated according to their specific contributions to the wealth of the citizens of California. For instance, did the study of ancient cultures make new archeological finds in which Californians received benefits? A cost benefit analysis of the research program should then be done. The profitable research programs (if there are any) should continue and/or the least unprofitable twenty-five percent should be kept on budget. All other non-historic U.C. research programs should be terminated.

Governor Schwarzenegger set an excellent example for what it means to terminate a non-historic research project when, in 2005-2006, he terminated ILE (Institute for Labor and Employment) first instituted in 2001 (page 68). Even the toned down version of the research findings still available on U.C. Santa Barbara’s website shows that "research" can be added to the list of earthly words that have almost lost all meaning (see "California’s Excessive Liberty…"). Suggesting that such a propaganda program is "research" suggests that members of the U.C. board are in league with the forces of ignorance.

Applying the idea that U.C. current research should be reduced to its historic charter results in this list of multi-campus research projects that should be terminated.

African Studies

Asian American/Pacific Islander Policy Initiative

Institute for Research on Climate Change and Its Societal Impacts (Website has vanished: perhaps some one is listening? If not, great minds think alike)

Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation (IGCC) 1997 This project would be not be cut according to Principle 1. Funding, however, has already been suspended. Perhaps based on 9/11/2001 and Principle 2, (Historic Accountability) this is appropriate.

Japanese Arts and Globalization

International Performance and Culture (Sure doesn’t sound like research).

Labor and Employment Research Fund (what’s left of ILE –2.4 million in savings) – out!

Pacific Rim Research Program (no history given – savings $800,000)

Tranliteracies Project 2005

UC Digital Arts Network (UC DARNet) Notice how the colorful and carefree acronym seems to disparage responsibility.

UC Initiative in Human Rights (spring 2005) The image of the girl sticking her finger in her own eye says it all about this project.

Transnational and Transcolonial Studies

Transnationalizing Justice

UC All-Campus Consortium on Research for Diversity (UC ACCORD)

UC Committee on Latino Research (see the unfunded recommendation from state senate)

UC Cuba Academic Initiative (2006?)

UC Davis Agricultural Sustainability Institute (2006) – $ 950,000 dollars in immediate savings from suspending new funding is available.

Studies of Food and the Body

UC World History Workshop. This doesn’t sound new but based on available information – terminate.