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Tuesday, December 6, 2016

SAN FRANCISCO — If the United States were still governed under the Articles of Confederation, might California be in the position of Greece, Spain or Italy?

After all, California has a major budget crisis and all sorts of difficulties governing itself. Its initiative system allows voters to mandate specific forms of spending and to limit tax increases and also make them harder to enact. Absent a strong federal government with the power to offset the impact of the recession and the banking crisis, how would California fare in a global financial system?

OK, no metaphor is perfect, and there’s a compelling case that this sprawling and economically diverse state would perform better in the global economy than the beleaguered nations of southern Europe. Moreover, Gov. Jerry Brown deserves credit for trying to get a handle on the California budget crisis. He’s going to the voters this fall with a referendum to raise about $8 billion in taxes to stave off further cuts. Without the money, Brown says, education spending would have to be slashed beyond the cutbacks that have already taken effect.

But the metaphor is instructive because it turns on its head the usual nonsense from anti-government politicians that the United States is on the road to becoming Greece. No, we’re not. Our issues are entirely different. To the extent that the crisis in Europe has lessons for the United States, they go the other way.