The LA Times has published a fascinating piece pointing to California as an important state where Republicans wield little political clout. In such a “progressive paradise”, is all well? Or , to repeat this again; when progressives are in charge does the wise governance of the TV show West Wing's President Bartlet emerge?
So, there are two issues I want you to consider. What public goods does a government seek to provide (and thus how would this product mix be affected if Republicans had some clout in California)? Second, what is the input mix (i.e quantity of labor and capital used) to produce the desired output? (If Republicans have some clout, would this put some discipline on California's famous labor unions to be more cost effective).
I have lived in the state for 10 years and based on my research and watching current events here is what I see.
2. Bullet trains in airplane connected places are over-rated and union captured. More generally, when California does big infrastructure and transit projects, what is the “bang per buck”? The Boston Big Dig featured countless cost overruns and delays. In California, do construction unions take their time and pad their costs as they know that they have influence over progressive politicians who they have helped elect? Do people actually ride the new trains that billions are spent on? Past work in transport economics (see the work of Don Pickrell and John Kain has argued that planners over-estimate the ex-post actual ridership of these shiny new projects).
3. Liberal cities pay their public sector workers more and thus feature higher taxes per unit of services. Read my paper here. Since California has unique amenities (that attract brilliant people), government officials recognize that they face an inelastic tax base that can be taxed. One open question is whether California's projects such as “CalTrain” significantly improves this local quality of life or whether these are Keynesian make work projects that mainly seek to attract federal cross-subsidies.
4. While California is innovative in its environmental policy (and I mainly support this except for the consequences on #1 above), California has been slow to introduce road pricing in its major cities. If Republicans had more power, would there be more experimentation with road pricing and dynamic parking pricing? (I recognize that San Fran was an early mover on implementing Don Shoup's ideas related to dynamic parking pricing).
5. Gov. Brown has mixed feelings about the University of California. He can't decide if he wants “great” universities or “accessible” universities. The state can't have both. He appears to be choosing the 2nd option. Would under a counter-factual world where Republicans in the state have some clout, would “continued excellence” have won the day?
6. Given California's generous redistribution policies (and wonderful climate), how many homeless from other states and areas have moved to California? Taking every other state's policies as given, how has California's socio-economic mix been affected by state level and local level redistribution generosity? Has this increased local crime? Has this affected quality of life in downtown San Fran and LA?
7. Most California public schools are not of high quality. If Republicans had some clout, would there be more experimentation with different educational approaches? Does the local teachers union inhibit such experimentation? For example, in what cases can we substitute robots for teachers? See the example of Paul Romer's Aplia.
8. An old question in urban economics asks; Do cops reduce crime? Would crime be lower across the state if Republicans had more clout and invested in more deterrence strategies?
9. How much higher would air and water pollution in the state be if Republicans were in charge? If Republicans (in the name of attracting factories) gutted air and water regulations, would the factories return? Given the high price of land and union labor, I would say “no”. Read my papers here and here.