Why haven't progressive ideas in California and elsewhere produced better results?

The OP in this thread wanted to discuss what progressive ideas could be implemented by states, but not how progressive ideas already implemented have worked out. Hence I offer this new thread to discuss that issue.

Which states are progressive? Rather than just listing “blue states”, many of which have Republican governors or legislatures, it seems better to look at states that currently vote for Democrats at all (or almost all) levels: President, Senate, most of their Congressional delegation, governor, and legislature. This, then, is a good list of progressive states: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington. Broadly speaking, this list of states has policies that would be recognized as progressive: high taxes, especially on the rich; powerful public-sector unions; high minimum wage; and so forth. There are exceptions–Washington state has no income tax, for instance–but generally it seems fair to call these states the progressive ones.

So what are the results? Not terribly by good, by the measures that progressives themselves often mention. When states are ranked by income inequality, four of the seven most unequal are progressive states; none of the seven most equal are. In unemployment, progressive states take three of the highest seven and only one of the lowest seven. And in poverty, California ranks dead last, once cost of living is accounted for. Illegal drug use tends towards the high side.

This is not to say that there may not be other measures by which those same states do quite well. But it should call into question the premise that progressive policies produce the results that progressives think they will. Take income inequality: everyone from the President on down tells us that high minimum wage, taxes on the rich, and strong unions will reduce income inequality. States like Connecticut, Massachusetts, and California have those things, and have some of the highest income inequality in the country. As the Economist article mentions, California is driving away the middle class while attracting the rich and the poor. If you’re a hard-working middle class person, California offers you high taxes, high cost of living, heavy regulations, lousy schools, an overbearing nanny state, and every reason to believe that these problems will only get worse. It only makes sense to live in California if you’re either too rich to worry about work and taxes or too poor to worry about work and taxes.

Ignoring the drug use one, I think all that shows is that you’re better off being poor in a “blue” state, which attracts more poor. I’m not even sure you can count that as a negative: there are poor everywhere, and if they’re moving to (or staying in, or not dying in) states where they can get a decent safety net, that’s a sign that the system’s working, not that it’s failing.

Much better measures, I think, are the ones progressives are actually trying for: decent minimum wages, more widespread availability of health care in general, treatment of poor women as being equal to men in policy and health care availability, and the general survivability of the poor.

And California is something of an outlier because of political, geographical, and social issues that aren’t easily labelled: it votes blue, but it has large conservative populations with political power. It’s kinda an inverse of, say, Texas or Arizona, both of which have liberal/progressive populations with considerable economic–but almost no political–power.

I remember reading an interesting article on Slate.com. It’s about two years old now, but still relevant to the question:

Massachusetts is the Best State in the Union

Massachusetts - a stereotypical progressive state that had a Republican governor at the time and replaced Ted Kennedy in a special election with Republican Scott Brown.

And California, a different stereotypical progressive state that recently had a Republican governor and still has significant pockets of conservatism.

So the lesson is don’t label/judge entire states by stereotypes?

New York, with a major city that just elected in first Democratic mayor in six elections, had a Republican governor from 1995-2006, and a divided legislature forever.

The entire premise is fatally flawed.

I can’t read your Economist link without subscribing, but as far as income inequality goes, do the various social supports that progressive states provide get counted?

Presumably, progressive states are taxing the rich and using that money to provide services like public health, public education, and municipal transportation.

Here’s a ranking of education by state. Massachusetts, Vermont, and Rhode Island are all near the top. Then look at the bottom of the list: Missouri, Mississippi, Louisiana, South Carolina, West Virginia. You didn’t list non-progressive states, but I’d bet those would be on such a list.

Here’s information about health rankings by state. Looks like the progressive states are doing pretty well.

It seems to me that things are working out ok. Sure, income inequality is high. And the solution to that is to tax rich people and spend the money on services that generally benefit not-rich people.

As a hard-working middle-class person who lives in California, I disagree with your description of it. Our total tax burden is about 1.3 points higher than the national average (9.9% vs 11.2%). If you look at tax burden across states, it’s pretty well correlated to population density. The more people who want to live in the same spot, the higher the costs of making things work.

1.3% of my income seems like an amazing bargain to live in such an absurdly great place. Just like living in Hawaii, or in New York. People come from all over the world to vacation here, and I get to live here all the time. I don’t think I’m the sucker that you think I am.

IIRC, one of the worst things to happen to California in recent history was deregulation of the energy sector, driven in part by right wing promises that a freer market would lower energy costs. Enron then proceded to gouge the state to the point where it had a genuine energy crisis that put a strain on its finances. It’s hard to carry out any “progressive” measures if you can’t pay for them. But again, that’s IIRC.

Well, when I listen to the President and his allies, I hear them saying things like “income inequality is the defining issue of our time”, and also asserting that measures such as higher minimum wage and increases in transfer payments will address this issue. They also talk a lot of unemployment and promise that their measures will “create jobs”. So based on that, the claim seems to be that such measures will actually reduce income inequality and reduce unemployment.

If the actual argument is that minimum wage and increased welfare payments won’t reduce income inequality or unemployment, but rather should be sought as ends in their own right, that would be avery different argument than what I’m actually hearing from Democratic leaders.

The energy deregulation that California voters approved in the mid 90’s was certainly a disaster for the state. However, Enron went belly-up in 2002 and the energy crisis ended about the same time. California’s looming obligations–almost certainly in excess of 1.0 trillion among state and local governments–does not result from that. It results from massive spending on all kinds of things, but pay and benefits to public employees forms the biggest chunk.

The goal of progressivism is not and never has been to make everyone economically equal. Therefore, measuring the “success” of progressivism in a given state by measuring the income inequality therein is pointless.

The success of progressivism should properly be judged in a number of ways that are pretty hard to measure statistically, but I think the most obvious, if you look, is a reduction in human misery. Somebody is able to feed their family instead of their going hungry this week–hard to measure. Somebody finds shelter rather than dying in a ditch somewhere–impossible to quantify. Someone doesn’t spend all their waking hours in a fog of pain any more because they now have access to health care–defies statistical analysis. But it’s there.

I have a sneaking suspicion that progressivism may even produce income inequality, by taking a given number of people out of despair and poverty and allowing them to join the middle class. It may also make some people wealthy by increasing the number of customers at their businesses. For example, I’m certain that the ACA will wind up greatly helping Wal-Mart.

Also the inability to raise property taxes, which is the root cause of their budget woes.

There are very few, if any, states that have voted exclusively for members of one party for a long time. And there’s no state that doesn’t have at least a few “pockets” of conservatism. If we want to know how progressive policies play out, we have to look at places like California. It’s had a heavily Democratic legislature for many years and, even when Schwarzenegger was governor, he changed next to nothing about how the state was actually governed. More to the point, California actually has the policies that the some want to implement nationwide: high minimum wage, unionization and high pay for government employees, a nanny states that sticks its fingers into everything, massive regulation, and so forth. So if we want to see the results of those policies, we should look at California.

Did you even see the link about Massachusetts?

Uh, no. As I’ve already clearly explained, progressives starting with the President advance policies by saying that they will address income inequality. Measuring whether a certain policy actually decreases income inequality in states where it’s been tried therefore lets us know whether such policies will achieve their goals.

Mighty convenient if the policies generally fail statistically.

If progressivism did that, it would decrease income inequality, not increase it. But the evidence suggests the opposite: that progressive policies push some middle class people towards poverty, thus increasing income inequality.

Until a couple of years ago California not only had a Republican governor, but its budget process had been completely gridlocked by an intransigent Republican minority in the State Assembly for well over a decade. The Republican death-grip on the state has been loosened slightly recently, but thanks to the anti-tax Prop. 13 (certainly not a progressivist measure) and a still intransigent Republican minority it is still impossible to institute anything remotely resembling a progressiveness tax system in the state, and it has scarcely had time yet to recover from the many years of total gridlock. Any failure of California is not due to progressivist economic policy, which has not been in force there. It is due to right wing anti-tax dogmatism.

The OP’s premise is false, not to say downright dishonest.

Is California more really unionized than average?

I did. I already said in the first post that there may be other measures by which progressive states do well. But my point is that we constantly hear how progressive policies will reduce inequality, reduce poverty, and create jobs. The evidence shows their policies don’t do such things.

A progressive tax system is one where the rich pay a higher rate than the poor. In California, the top income tax rate is 13.3% and the bottom is 1.0%. That’s a spread of 12.3% between the richest and poorest tax payers, which is by far the largest spread in the nation. (Cite) It is true that in property taxes, California’s system is not progressive, but the huge bite taken out of the rich makes up for it. California had one of the nation’s highest tax burdens even before the recent tax hike; Prop 13 did not keep taxes low.

I’m not sure your metrics are anything but straw men. The progressives wouldn’t be railing against the rich so much if the rich didn’t spend so much time shrilly whining about potential increases to their historically low taxes while at the same time doing everything in their power to increase their wealth by screwing over their fellow citizens. So you’ll have to justify your claim that reducing income inequality is a historical progressive goal, rather than, for example, just trying to truncate the lower end of the bell curve.

 Anyway, instead of income inequality, let's take education as a metric.   The Massachusetts approach is something like "let's have good schools and a metric ton of colleges and universities and let's see what happens".     That's seems to be true for a lot of the "progressive" states on your list.   So let's see where they fall when you look [at the states with the most minimum wage jobs](http://stateimpact.npr.org/idaho/2013/02/27/idaho-leads-nation-in-minimum-wage-workers/):  surprisingly, it looks like when you educate your workers, not quite as many of them end up working at Walmart.  And you know what else happens?   [Tech millionaires](http://www.nbcnews.com/business/economy/where-millionaires-live-state-taxes-make-little-difference-f2D11664966), really good jobs, and happy investors.  So income inequality is actually a somewhat predictable outcome of a progressive environment.

This is somewhat opposed to Texas, Alaska, or the Dakotas where the precursor to great wealth seems to be being lucky enough to have big pools of prehistoric algae bubbling up from the ground.

The BLS has them at #5 in percentage of workers represented by unions, at 17.4%, trailing New York (25.8%), Alaska (24.5%), Hawaii (23.6%), and Washington (19.7%).