After the horror stories we’ve read about the disastrous effects of the recession on the institutional structure of the state of California, its relations with Washington and with local governments, it is a relief to learn about the Repair California Movement. This enterprise is trying to put an “initiative,” a specifically Californian procedure, on next year’s ballot. This would allow voters to call a constitutional convention and start again from scratch.
California has been called a failing state. High praise, therefore, to good people for having taken matters into their own hands.
They seem to have no counterparts in the Arab world. The Egyptian weekly Al Ahram recently published an article by Khalil El Anani who asks why Arab states are not more successful. He refers specifically to Yemen, Sudan and Palestine. There is no mention of any internal movement towards reform but it is surely encouraging that the Egyptian authorities permit a critical analysis of conditions in the Arab world.
Khalil El Anani lists three factors: (A) the declining credibility of the nation state due to political incompetence, economic corruption and social injustice; (B) the growing tendency on the part of the Arab states towards an ever tighter monopoly of power, expressed daily in the form of police repression; and (C) outside forces eager to exploit internal tensions.
Of these three, only (A) has a parallel with the Californian situation. Debates are particularly virulent on campuses. Every day students castigate the Republican state government for savagely cutting the budgets of universities, community colleges and public school boards. There are frequent attacks on immigration policies that, so it is said, have led to conditions favouring non-whites. By now whites consider themselves so disadvantaged, so we hear, that, while sixty to sixty-five percent of Californian voters are white, only twenty-eight percent of public school students are. Whenever possible, it seems, white parents send their children to private schools.
The Repair California Movement is designed to reverse these trends and prepare the ground for democratic reforms reflecting the wishes of an enlightened electorate.
Some of these reforms could be dramatic.
Students of economics and game theory play with the idea of the Californian government simply repudiating its debts. This, some have decided, would not have much negative effect on the state. However, it would definitely not be welcomed by the rest of the country. It is not hard to see what fun it is for them to debate the priorities.
For all we know, students on Arab campuses enjoy similar amusements.