Skip to main content

A letter to my students

Michael O'Hare, professor of public policy | August 24, 2010

Welcome to Berkeley, probably still the best public university in the world. Meet your classmates, the best group of partners you can find anywhere. The percentages for grades on exams, papers, etc. in my courses always add up to 110% because that’s what I’ve learned to expect from you, over twenty years in the best job in the world.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that you have been the victims of a terrible swindle, denied an inheritance you deserve by contract and by your merits. And you aren’t the only ones; victims of this ripoff include the students who were on your left and on your right in high school but didn’t get into Cal, a whole generation stiffed by mine. This letter is an apology, and more usefully, perhaps a signal to start demanding what’s been taken from you so you can pass it on with interest.

Swindle – what happened? Well, before you were born, Californians now dead or in nursing homes made a remarkable deal with the future. (Not from California? Keep reading, lots of this applies to you, with variations.) They agreed to invest money they could have spent on bigger houses, vacations, clothes, and cars into the world’s greatest educational system, and into building and operating water systems, roads, parks, and other public facilities, an infrastructure that was the envy of the world. They didn’t get everything right: too much highway and not enough public transportation. But they did a pretty good job.

Young people who enjoyed these ‘loans’ grew up smarter, healthier, and richer than they otherwise would have, and understood that they were supposed to “pay it forward” to future generations, for example by keeping the educational system staffed with lots of dedicated, well-trained teachers, in good buildings and in small classes, with college counselors and up-to-date books. California schools had physical education, art for everyone, music and theater, buildings that looked as though people cared about them, modern languages and ancient languages, advanced science courses with labs where the equipment worked, and more. They were the envy of the world, and they paid off better than Microsoft stock. Same with our parks, coastal zone protection, and social services.

This deal held until about thirty years ago, when for a variety of reasons, California voters realized that while they had done very well from the existing contract, they could do even better by walking away from their obligations and spending what they had inherited on themselves. “My kids are finished with school; why should I pay taxes for someone else’s? Posterity never did anything for me!” An army of fake ‘leaders’ sprang up to pull the moral and fiscal wool over their eyes, and again and again, your parents and their parents lashed out at government (as though there were something else that could replace it) with tax limits, term limits, safe districts, throw-away-the-key imprisonment no matter the cost, smoke-and-mirrors budgeting, and a rule never to use the words taxes and services in the same paragraph.

Now, your infrastructure is falling to pieces under your feet, and as citizens you are responsible for crudities like closing parks, and inhumanities like closing battered women’s shelters. It’s outrageous, inexcusable, that you can’t get into the courses you need, but much worse that Oakland police have stopped taking 911 calls for burglaries and runaway children. If you read what your elected officials say about the state today, you’ll see things like “California can’t afford” this or that basic government function, and that “we need to make hard choices” to shut down one or another public service, or starve it even more (like your university). Can’t afford? The budget deficit that’s paralyzing Sacramento is about $500 per person; add another $500 to get back to a public sector we don’t have to be ashamed of, and our average income is almost forty times that. Of course we can afford a government that actually works: the fact is that your parents have simply chosen not to have it.

I’m writing this to you because you are the victims of this enormous cheat (though your children will be even worse off if you don’t take charge of this ship and steer it). Your education was trashed as California fell to the bottom of US states in school spending, and the art classes, AP courses, physical education, working toilets, and teaching generally went by the board. Every year I come upon more and more of you who have obviously never had the chance to learn to write plain, clear, English. Every year, fewer and fewer of you read newspapers, speak a foreign language, understand the basics of how government and business actually work, or have the energy to push back intellectually against me or against each other. Or know enough about history, literature, and science to do it effectively! You spent your school years with teachers paid less and less, trained worse and worse, loaded up with more and more mindless administrative duties, and given less and less real support from administrators and staff.

Many of your parents took a hike as well, somehow getting the idea that the schools had taken over their duties to keep you learning, or so beat-up working two jobs each and commuting two hours a day to put food on the table that they couldn’t be there for you. A quarter of your classmates didn’t finish high school, discouraged and defeated; but they didn’t leave the planet, even if you don’t run into them in the gated community you will be tempted to hide out in. They have to eat just like you, and they aren’t equipped to do their share of the work, so you will have to support them.

You need to have a very tough talk with your parents, who are still voting; you can’t save your children by yourselves. Equally important, you need to start talking to each other. It’s not fair, and you have every reason (except a good one) to keep what you can for yourselves with another couple of decades of mean-spirited tax-cutting and public sector decline. You’re my heroes just for surviving what we put you through and making it into my classroom, but I’m asking for more: you can be better than my generation. Take back your state for your kids and start the contract again. There are lots of places you can start, for example, building a transportation system that won’t enslave you for two decades as their chauffeur, instead of raising fares and cutting routes in a deadly helix of mediocrity. Lots. Get to work. See you in class!

UPDATE: Like your political science in musical form? Here’s the way people thought about this stuff back in the day, and maybe should again. Bet there’s a good rap along these lines waiting to be born…

Cross-posted from the blog The Reality Based Community.

Comments to “A letter to my students

  1. California is a victim of the success of the Marxist that has taken over public policy led by SEIU, a mafia union. Andy Stern from Chicago used his Marxist connections to build the biggest union. Their agenda like all Marxist is to destroy freedom especial business. In California they have wiped out the tax base and replaced it with bankruptcy.
    Glen Beck’s TV program educates the ill informed to our founding fathers agenda of promoting freedom and away from collectivism

  2. Dear Professor,

    nowhere do you mention the increased spending and the public employee benefits that are detracting from the budget for public services, nor the fact that taxation level in California did not, in fact, decrease in the past years. Some folks in the comment are pointing it out already.

    I find it outrageous that a university professor is one-sidedly campaigning against tax cuts and says not one word about where the current budget spending goes. The level of public services doesn’t need to suffer. The only thing that needs to be done is eliminate the excess public employee pensions and benefits and use the thus released funds to keep up the high level of services that previous generations of Californians enjoyed.

    The “enormous cheat” is the public employee unions who are buying the politicians with their votes, and leveraging their voting power to extract more and more benefits for themselves from our – already not low – taxes. That’s where the money is being drained, that’s why there’s not enough left of it to keep up the Californian public service quality. The solution is not raising taxes, the solution is saying “no” to public employee unions.

  3. While everyone talks about individuals when it comes to prop 13, the actual beneficiaries were corporations and commercial property owners. Commercial property rarely turns over and so is rarely reassessed, leaving the values on the 2% curve for decades. if cutting taxes in this way were so stimulative toward the economy, we’d all be living in a capitalist heaven and there would be nearly full employment now. But instead, human nature won the day and the recipients of this windfall have just pocketed the tax savings. meanwhile the private sector pushed out the unions, which all found a home with public sector employees. IMHO the average city council member or state legislature is the kind of person who could not make it in the private sector, and so they do not represent the “best and the brightest” when it comes to business matters. Plus these public servants are not motivated by personal greed when negotiating with unions as the average businessman is. Hence we end up with unsustainable pentiion obligations in the public sector… What a mess for California.

  4. This is only half of the crime. Yes, a generation of “me-firsts” were encouraged and taught to look the other way while they got theirs and politicians did back door midnight contracts with their buddies who shared in the excess of the expenses for political war-chests. There appeared to be enough for this kind of “management fee”, while civic insiders bilked and bilked to their hearts content, while no one watched what was being stolen from community coffers. Yes, the 70’s mantra that fed the 80’s dogma produced a generation of dual theories predicated on one goal, to enjoy it while it’s good, whether “it” was wrought by legislative theft or by actually fulfilling a need properly.

    But there’s no way I’m ever going to give the crooks running our cities a pass.

    Just look at the “Ground Zero Mosque”, that was green-lit in record time, a matter of weeks, when the Greek Orthodox Church rendered inhabitable since the 9/11 attacks in 2001 still can’t get the go ahead. It begs me to fill in the blanks, that Saudi money must be greasing the palms of NY bureaucrats to make theirs happen first.

    I wish it were as keeping up my end of the bargain. I remember my civic duty, and remind my kids and others of theirs, in a short sermon that reminds them of our social contract. If we benefited, we owe.

    However, and this is a sharp 180, if you steal, you will be punished, and it’s this that must be adhered to. Without this institutional concept, we will continue to see our contributions to our community projects double and double again, and yield less and less results every time Crooked “community organizers” exploit and profit from their crimes against our mutual trusts.

    Have no doubt, your contributions to the governments, local, state and federal, are double what your parents were, and the results are very obvious.

    I say ’tis the season to prosecute malfeasance, embezzlement, and pure betrayal against the obligations of the office politicians are entrusted.

  5. Excellent piece. The answer is fundraising. The days of a public investment in Cal are over. I have spent 25 years in major gifts fundraising including a stint at Cal. Sadly, yes Prop 13 started the idea that “why should I care about other peoples children”. The other contract that has been broken with California students is the make up of that campus. I went to a UC that was diverse and represented the best students in that state. Not the richest and most priveledged students with the access to the best private schools, tutors etc. Ward Connerly is the criminal who did this and the spineless Regents who gave into him. Their shame…is without end.

    No Cal, has to realize that fundraising on the scale of Princeton or the Unviersity of Chicago is what is needed. I have been at high levels in University Development and they do a great job, a stellar job. But they shouldn’t be choked for resources or staff like another department. They should be given everything they need to do for …long term…fundraising, not just for what they can bring in right now. Do that and in 10 years you will be reaping the benefits of a wise investment. Cal is now what 30% state funded? Go ahead and finish it and make it 10%.

  6. This essay starts with a major false premise, and continues on with many more false premises. Some points to consider:

    1) The “public works” you refer to were not paid for by generous, forward-thinking “Californians” who intended to “pay it forward.”

    Thanks to our “progressive” tax system, these works were paid for, for the most part, by the smaller percentage of tax payers who pay most of the taxes.

    This minority was forced by the majority to send their hard-earned dollars into government. There is nothing respectable about the majority forcing their values upon the minority. Whether we’re talking about financial wealth, race, sex, creed, etc.

    2) The “dead” or “in-nursing” home Californians are not heroes who made sacrificing for the young. It’s the other way around. A baby born today will assume its share of a $13 trillion liability imposed on it by the Democrats and Republicans that have ruled this country.

    On top of that, you have social security and these ridiculous medical insurance programs which will amount to the largest transfer of wealth from the young to the old that this nation, and possibly this world, have ever seen.

    • I’d like to interject a comment on what seems to be a common talking point- I often hear mentioned the “the smaller percentage of tax payers who pay most of the taxes,” which I think is highly misleading. Take into account the fact that in 2007, for example, the top decile (the top 10% of earners)received 49.7% of the total income in the US ( To make it simple, if 10% of the people make 50% of the money, shouldn’t they be paying 50% of the taxes? Well, yeah.

      • If it were the case that the top 10% made 50% of the money and paid 50% of the taxes, that would be fair. But that’s not how it works. According to the commerce department and IRS: the top 1% of all taxpayers pays 40% of all taxes. The top 5% of taxpayers pay 60% of all taxes. And No, the top 5% does not make 60% of the money.

        In 1960, the top 1/2% percent of all income earners paid about 16% of all taxes. By 2005, that number had risin to 25%, even though tax rates themselves have dropped dramatically. this is because as the top tax rates are cut, the bottom tax rates are often cut, and the exemption level rises, so a larger percentage of people don’t pay any taxes at all.

        The United States has at the same time, the lowest overall tax burden on its citizens as a whole (since about 40% pay either no taxes, or get paid by tax credits), and the most progressive tax system in the world, since it gets the largest percentage of its taxes from the top 1% (the top 1% pay more collectively in taxes than the entire bottom 95% combined – meaning if you take the top 1.5 million US taxpayers and add up their taxes, it is more than the total taxes paid by the bottom 150 million taxpaers).

  7. Why is CA bankrupt, why is the public education system so incompetent, why is my generation in debt…??? Answer: public union entitlements and big gov policies. Professor – are you really going to make the “our public sector is severely underfunded” argument? I’m not trying to be patronizing (I’m really not), but a very, very…very cursory look into basic laws of economics and history thoroughly and undeniably undermines everything you’ve written on the subject.

  8. If you would promise to spend it on education and not some ad campaign for happy bovines, I might agree. If you would promise to spend it on highways and not pet programs from your district, I might agree. If you would promise to take $500 from each and every person, not $1000 from those who “can” and nothing from those who “can’t”, I might agree. If you would promise to spend it on the truly common good or a true social safety net rather than just give it to people for whom hard work is anathema, I would agree. But you can’t promise ANY of those things, so I think I’m out …

  9. Wow! Well said! Unfortunately the same goes for most sates in the USA and countries in Europe! (With the exception of Scandinavia and Switzerland)

  10. Unfortunately you will probably be labelled a lefty commie socialist hippy professor etc. But you’re right. I always have to think of that christmas favorite “It’s a Wonderful life”, where the pesky Savings and Loans brought prosperity to the whole town.

  11. I’m neither a student of yours, Professor O’Hare, nor am I a parent.

    I’m simply someone grateful to you for exhibiting a most underrated and most rarely highlighted of virtues: candor.

    Thank you for telling your students like it is.

  12. All of this is only too true. For an example, my parents were required to take Civics in high school. They learned about the Constitution, how government is set up and how it works, what our Senators and Representatives do, about voting and the Electoral College. They learned how their state (California), county (San Bernadino), and city (Montclair) governments worked. They learned about fiscal issues (even a bit of economics and the Fed, etc.) and the basics of our criminal justice system.

    When I was in high school in Western Washington, we got a cursory form of this stuff squeezed into one term of American History. I learned on my own, being a voracious history reader and fascinated by law and government.

    When my kids were in high school, they got no civics at all in school. They got it around the kitchen table. All three are voters now, they know their way around an op-ed page and they read and discuss what is in the Voters’ Pamphlet. But their peers more likely got none of this. Their parents were, as you say, unmotivated or plain too tired and busy.

    I look at some of what is going on online, with blogging and social networking and such, and I’m not sure whether I should be encouraged by the direction of the next generation, or running for the hills. I sincerely hope it is the former.

  13. Teaching should focus on Math and English. Foreign language, diversity, international, social science, humanity, should not be required for a degree. In fact the inability to test out of most classes is problem.

    The government control of education has mis allocated the supply of degrees, making loan requirements not depend on demand for the degree(no one care about ability to repay since the government insures loans 97%), making entrance exams depend a English mind instead of a math mind (SAT verbal/written/math the State the value of English twice that of math).

    Total Bachelors degress conferred : 1,524,092

    Business : 327,531
    Education : 105,641
    Engineering : 67,092
    Computer and information sciences : 42,170
    English language and literature/letters : 55,122
    Health professions and related clinical sciences: 101,810
    Psychology : 90,039
    Social sciences and history : 164,183
    Visual and performing arts : 85,186

    The public sector is bigger than it has ever been and provides better benefits than the private.

    In the last great depression bankruptcy laws for cities came into creation. For this great depression the Federal gov will draft laws to provide a method of bankruptcy for the State.

    • Of course, because a single-track education that makes one a mere technician is always better than learning about many different things in order to better understand the world around us and how it works in practice outside of one’s own chosen field. Because, you know, no one needs to actually UNDERSTAND anyone else.

      I am aghast. Graduate degrees are for the level of specialization you’re advocating here. You have a choice; if you want a baccalaureate degree that is purely based in your own field…don’t go to a liberal arts school. If, however, you want to go to a public university, you’re pretty much stuck with the liberal arts education, because the state has a vested interest in making sure you know a lot about your own field and a little about many others, so that you can work with people in other fields while quite POSSIBLY employing a bit of empathy.

      It won’t hurt you to have a clear view of the world in general. Except that maybe it’ll open your mind.

  14. I don’t know how I would look at the world, if not through the eyes of my friends from UCLA, Berkley, and the golden zones of California that breathe life into the East Coast when it becomes zombified by cold and politics.

  15. I think governments should not be allowed to borrow money except in a real emergency. The interest on huge national debts is crippling. Who’s to say the money was well spent? Most probably went on corruption.

    • Sam, your comments are too general to apply to ALL “governments,” but as far as the United States government, most expenditures go towards the military and debt service.

  16. Great post.

    And please tell the kids about how their grandparents and parents didn’t have the experience of having huge debts after college. Now this is considered normal, but it is a huge weight with which which older adults never had to deal. And it comes down to freedom and options: if you have a debt you must repay, you can’t take lower paying jobs in nonprofits, you can’t travel the world, you can’t start a business. You got to take the highest paying job you can and repay those loans.

    • Hugo, most grandparents/parents didn’t get a degree. My parents didn’t have that “freedom.” My dad joined the Air Force and got affirmative-actioned into a great job at IBM. Not the right color to have had that freedom to go into debt.

  17. Heed Professor Michael O’Hare’s opinion and advice, as they are honest and highly accurate.

    Please act now to convince our fellow american citizens of the blind and misguided error of their ways. I have failed spectacularly in my own efforts, and now no longer live in the country which I love, and swear my allegiance to.

    I am a Republican, a conservative, a believer in limited government, and a parent to this current generation now entering college, and I have much to regret.

    I lived in the “silicon valley” of California from 1979 – 1984 and again from 1988 – 1993.

    Upon my first arrival, my first year of high school, I was in for a terrible shock, to find having left a first world schooling to arrive in a 2nd world dilapidated school system.

    Prop 103, and the likewise self centered legislation were the cause of this precipitous decline.

    Yes, we were indeed blinded by charismatic personalities such as Ronald Reagan. I believe in hard work, and looking out for others less fortunate, and investing in my community.

    I am proud of my country, proud to be an american citizen, proud of the majority of its hard working and deeply caring people. I however, am revolted by the state and federal governments of the past 30 years.

    A government that largely reflects the will of a small number (however a majority loyal voting group) blind and ignorant, shrill, largely self centered and mean spirited people. These are members of my own political party, and largely conservatives in the Democratic Party.

    I have been very fortunate to travel widely across the globe for business purposes. I have been in nearly all of the “great cities” of the world.
    I was shocked and surprised to find several countries with far better quality of life than that which I found in the U.S., thus began my “great awakening education” as to the cause of the ills of our great nation. I looked in the mirror and found myself to blame. I spent the next 3 years attempting to convince ANY of my fellow (majority voting) U.S. citizens in the error of their ways. Having spectacularly failed to do so, I packed up our family and moved to a new country.

    I left the U.S. 8 years ago, with my wife and 3 children, to move to Vienna, Austria (ranked for 2 years in a row as the best city in the world).

    The tax rate for the average middle class citizen here is 50 %. It is the closest thing to heaven, one can find on this earth. I do not mind at all, paying far more in taxes, as I can clearly see the benefits of doing so.

    As an american, as a conservative republican, I suffer a continuing Cognitive Dissonance, unable to resolve the seemingly incompatible simultaneous support of aspects of the SPÖ, the Social Party of Austria. The evil socialism, which as americans we were raised to believe, was so thoroughly “UN-American”, and threatened america. I have seen the centrist socialist ideals succeed here in Austria, where right wing conservatism has clearly failed america.

    Austria also has a small shrill, bigoted, and self centered group of people like those who ultimately dethroned america’s prosperity. They are known as the FPÖ, the so called “freedom party of Austria”, and their brethren the BZÖ, and their sympathizers in the ÖVP. However these people are but a small (however growing) minority of the voting group.

    Left unchallenged, they shall ultimately destroy the Austria they claim to want to preserve. I do my best to educate all Austrians that these persons are misguided, and show them the United States as proof of the fate which certainly awaits them, if they remain on their self destructive course of politics.

    Vienna is a social democratic city. As an American, I find it largely balanced. People have good jobs, guaranteed high quality healthcare (socialized medicine), and provide nearly free (300 euros per semester) higher education. The society takes care of its most needy of citizens.

    Yes they have entirely too much bureaucracy, and yes the politicians are highly paid (far more than in the US), however surprisingly as a result they are largely honest and uncorrupted persons.

    Austria has an unemployment rate of 4.7 percent vs 9.6 for the US.

    Please act now to restore america’s greatness, pride, and respect in the world.

    Joseph Mangan

    • Tuition fees in Austria have in fact been 363.36 Euro per semester (for citizens of the EU), this has however changed in 2008. Now the big majority is studying essentially for free.

  18. This is very true and a situation we are suffering in the UK as a whole too. But, and I hate to sound so defeatist, if its “the will of the people” who have voted for a system that produces these outcomes is this just not inevitable, a sort of political entropy?

  19. I respectfully disagree. Professor O’Hare implies in this piece that spending has remained in check all these years and it’s simply that the state has somehow been bilked of the necessary tax revenue to finance these expenditures. But California’s budget growth has outpaced the rate of inflation and population growth for decades. It’s the spending that has increased, not the ‘selfishness’ of the baby boomers.

    The lion’s share of the budget growth is due to increased spending on prisons, public healthcare and higher education, all of which outpaced population growth by a great deal over the last thirty years and even over the five years leading up to the budget crisis.

    If we want a public sector we can be proud of, let’s start with a sustainable budget that increases in proportion to the state’s economic outputs. Let’s also consider that $500 per person does not begin to cover the enormous unfunded obligations that are owed to public sector employees. Unfortunately, this situation does imply making some choices — if we care about creating a sustainable public sector that will be able to serve future generations, we’ll have to spend less on the prison industrial complex, healthcare, basic services and, dare I say, Berkeley.

  20. As someone who has seen the education system in my own home state decline, I couldn’t agree with you more. I remember a time in high school when us members of the band had to stage a day-long filibuster of sorts in the quad to convince administrators to cut the freshmen football program as opposed to the entire music department, and how later that year foreign language teachers began to get fired and AP class options began to get cut. I would happily give up my tax dollars for a better future – and I don’t even plan on having kids. Everyone deserves a real education, and access to parks, shelters, hospitals, and on.

  21. Excellent. People need to learn to resist intelligently. Understanding their world. And the contract. Here is hoping America finds a better future than what appears to be.

  22. I love how you can trivialize $500 per person, then in subsequent paragraphs lament parents having to have two jobs just to put food on the table. You imply that the solution is to increase taxes on the higher earners, but as of Jan 1, 2010, California already has the 5th highest tax rate for high income earners in the entire country. You then imply the solution is to simply throw more money at teachers, even though California has the second highest average salary for teachers in the country ($57,604).

    It’s well known that Berkeley is our nation’s little bastion of socialist ideals, but I would have hoped that you’d at least poke your head out of the cloud for a moment to gather some actual facts. Otherwise, your impassioned letter to your students looks more like the typical demagogy currently polluting our mass media.

    • That’s not what he implies at all. He says that all infrastructure, including schools, should be properly funded. And your snarky comment using socialist as a derogatory word is both idiotic and rude. Unless you believe that government should not fund any infrastructure — and this includes roads, water, sewage, police and fire — you agree with some social democratic principles, and therefore pretend that you don’t. You can certainly argue if they’re necessary or not, and at what level they should be funded, but don’t try to brand any kind of government that you dislike with the weaselly use of the word socialist.

      Debate fairly, or don’t debate at all.

  23. Dear Sir,

    First, you really need a Twitter account so I can easily keep track of your writings.

    Second, bravo. Very powerful stuff. The second to last paragraph almost made me cry. Good luck with your students. I can already see they’re in good hands.


    Some Random Guy

  24. I am not one of your students but, having stumbled upon this post, feel inclined to comment. Do you truly feel California’s declining infrastructure is due solely to tax cuts?

    Has California’s spending (per capita and adjusted for inflation) remained constant over the years? (Hint: not at all) So, why are things declining if we’re spending more? Perhaps it’s the state’s enormous pension problem which is only getting worse with $500 billion in obligations. Perhaps it’s because 10% of the state budget goes to prison. Perhaps because state employees make 35% more than private-sector workers.

    Also, California teachers and school employees are the highest paid in the nation–35% above the national average. Finally, the state spends 70% more (per capita) than the national average on social services, primarily because of it’s welfare programs.

    In short, you’ve presented only one side of the coin (taxes) and neglected the other (spending & debt). That seems disingenuous, especially considering you’re a state employee.

    If your students rally and start a “new contract”, perhaps it should include you and your colleagues extending your retirement age or reducing your pension.

    In my humble opinion, you are doing a disservice to your students, your readers, and the voters of California. Shame on you–you owe us another apology.

  25. Using figures from this discussion ( , the picture is a bit different:
    Using state figures and the CPI calculator:
    1965-1966: $4B nominal ($28B, constant 2010 dollars)
    1982-1983: $25.3B nominal ($57.2B)
    2008-2009: $144B ($145)
    2009-2010: $119.2B ($119.2B)
    Even if you adjust for California’s prodigious immigration-fueled population growth, spending per person in constant dollars has more than doubled.
    You spent your school years with teachers paid less and less.
    I feel the urge to get out numbers here, but it would be like shooting fish in a barrel.

    Is it lack of funding or mispending?

    • I’m with elai. Please analyze your numbers with a more discerning eye and write with a bit less rhetoric. This whole post reminded me of a famous quotation by one of America’s greatest luminaries: “Lies, damn lies, and statistics.” I would expect more from one employed by our greatest public university.

  26. I was a UC Davis freshman in 1972. 18, registered to vote, and faced with the choice of Nixon vs. McGovern (I chose the latter, unenthusiastically), and voting for Prop 13 (which I violently opposed). My parents, however–The Greatest Generation–voted for Nixon and Prop 13 in droves, and we got another 3 years of war, Watergate, and oh yes, the fiscal dismantling of California. Why pay for other peoples’ kids indeed? Prop 13 was the biggest gift my parents gave to themselves (and, I might add, to big corporations owning huge amounts of property in California), and here we are 38 years later in our current mess. Yes, get to work and undo this madness! Start with Prop 13.

  27. Hey, kids — apparently one thing you will learn to say at UCB is “special pleading!”

    I guess we should all be shocked, shocked that a beneficiary of run-away state spending who professes “public policy” (in other words, how money which is not his should be spent) finds that not quite enough money is being spent on… him.

    For a reality check, have a look at this, which details how profligate, wasteful spending is driving productive taxpayers out of the state while producing pathetic results.

    Prof. O’Hare: I’ll see your “mean-spirited tax cutting” and raise you a “cosseted, job-protected, greed-head propagandist for wealth redistribution.” In the mean time, sir, please keep your hands out of my pockets.

    • Yes, because God forbid our taxpayer dollars should be spent on something so profligate as education.

      I don’t know about you, but reading comprehension was a big focus area when I was in elementary school.

  28. Thank you for this excellent analysis. I hope everyone will re-post and circulate Michael O’Hare’s essay — we need to build a massive political movement to re-build public services and institutions. There is enormous wealth in the state of California, and in the U.S. as a whole; it should be used more widely, for the benefit of more of the population.

  29. I guess teacher’s unions and illegal immigration along with Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac have nothing to do with the problem this state faces.

    My favorite line is “mean-spirited tax-cutting” and the idea that if people don’t agree with you, they are mean-spirited. Have you ever considered that they just differ from you and no malice is involved?

    You don’t have many numbers in your blog to support your position. I bet you expect more from your students. Here is a very important fact: revenues for EVERY category of government in California increased when adjusted for inflation and population growth between FY 1977-78 and FY 2002-03.

    So where does all the money go? They go to silly projects like this:

    Best Wishes,

    Your neighborhood, friendly, not so “mean-spirited” tax-cutter

    • “Los Angeles is not alone, however, in building big. Some of the most expensive schools are found in low-performing districts — New York City has a $235 million campus; New Brunswick, N.J., opened a $185 million high school in January.”

    • But the crisis is caused by a mix of large-scale spending with a tax freeze. That seems like a pretty deadly combination to me. This is the problem with fiscal conservatives: they want to have their cake and eat it too. Just as Newt Gingrich, when he was in congress, brought home more money to his district than anyone else while simultaneously railing against pork-barrel spending and tax increases, so too these Orange County conservatives grab tons of money in federal grants while complaining about taxes. I feel like you should listen to your own economics textbooks: there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

    • I feel like several people are saying the same thing, and completely missing the point of the essay. He acknowledges pretty clearly that wasteful spending in the government that you so quickly pointed out, and said that money would be better spend on things like education and public transportation.

      Am I missing something here?

  30. Using state figures and the CPI calculator:

    1965-1966: $4B nominal ($28B, constant 2010 dollars)

    1982-1983: $25.3B nominal ($57.2B)

    2008-2009: $144B ($145)

    2009-2010: $119.2B ($119.2B)

    Even if you adjust for California’s prodigious immigration-fueled population growth, spending per person in constant dollars has more than doubled.

  31. To Your Students,

    The school system has failed you because of excuses. You have not reached your potential because you are told what to do and when to do it. There is no creativity and no curriculum to stimulate your imagination. You only need to pass a standardized test to get your diploma.

    Don’t worry about what your parents did or did not do. It is your future. What do you want for your children in the future? You need to step up now and lay the foundation for it.

    The problem with education is that it does not change with the times. What worked 30 years ago will not work with today’s students. In our school system here, 539 of our students are homeless.

    You are in a school system that complains about childhood obesity and then serves chicken nuggets and cheeseburgers for lunch.

    Yes you have been swindled. Swindled by the people that make excuses rather than come up with creative solutions.

    • My school system failed because they charged me exorbitant amounts of money to get what amounts to a high school diploma from 20 years ago.

      I suppose being saddled with crippling debt and an over-saturation of college degrees within the job market are just excuses though. I guess I better pony up another hundred grand for grad school so I can “step up now and lay the foundation for it.”

  32. What a motivating article. I moved from California to Colorado – ground zero of the “let’s turn our country into a libertarian paradise – just like, say, Somalia.” Parks closing. No public trash service. No public transit. Turn off the street lights. It’s astonishing how many people think this is a good idea.

  33. I’m not really a fan of 90% top marginal tax rates (see link below), thank you very much. Though compelling, and well written, the idea that we need more government intervention is a tired one. Look at New Jersey or countless other examples.

    I am very in favor of governments fully paying off debt as fast as they can, however, and am personally for raising tax rates until this happens, otherwise we will all be screwed when the baby boomers stop working.

  34. Thanks, Professor O’Hare. But I’m sure your thinking and teaching about public policy doesn’t stop at the California border. To make my point, just a couple of questions: what is the public policy towards increasing poverty due to the Great Recession? And doesn’t the new student debt load fit into that larger picture? It would be good to read another blog that doesn’t blame parents of students for the coma of our political economy.

  35. YOU nailed it! why give a hoot,arrogant, selfish,misguided add what ever you like.Americans around the world are universally,looked down on and hated,[ugly American]ring a bell.Gravity has rules,people are like things in the universe they seek order and some times the least resistance.
    maybe the aforementioned is the plausible reason for human decline.

  36. Or maybe you could privatise education, and let those who use it pay for it, like any other service.

    Have a read of Enterprising Education: Doing Away with the Public School System ( for an explanation of why privatisation is a moral necessity, and how it might be achieved.

    • And then you can build even more prisons to contain the people who “chose” not to participate in your ‘free’ market.

    • That’s not how it works. Except in fantasy land. It’s very hard for me to fathom how libertarians can view themselves as “realists” when they think that simplistic economic formula (with extremely narrow applicability) can be applied to every situation imaginable.

  37. I want to be specific. It was obvious that the passage of Proposition 13, which
    purported only to stop the horrendous growth in property taxes, would also destroy
    much that I valued, especially the California public education system, once one of the
    best in the nation, now close to the bottom.

    I’m sorry to say that some faculty and administrators here have come up with ideas which
    would destroy Berkeley in order to save it.

  38. Being one of the golden oldies who benefitted from the greatest public school system, and a teacher from a family of teachers, my heart breaks. We forgot to heed Oliver Wendell Holmes statement that taxes are the price we pay for civilization. Any one for whom the result of this forgetfulness is a surprise wasn’t paying attention–it has been obvious since ye olde Prop 13 days.

  39. Very well said.

    Most Important Point: “— you are the victims of this enormous cheat (though your children will be even worse off if you don’t take charge of this ship and steer it.)”

    It is time to join together, using the worldwide web where everyone has an equal opportunity to contribute ideas and expedite implementation of solutions to severe threats to our quality of life, in a common effort to produce a new culture of political leadership that will restore Rule of Law and representation of We The People.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *