Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Jake's Libertarian Voter's Guide To The 2012 California Propositions

There's a whole raft of propositions to vote against this November.  None of these were written by libertarians or for libertarians, and most of them deserve a vigorous punch of the "no" chad -- don't leave those chads a-hangin'!  Here's why, in numerical order:

Prop 30: Jerry Brown's Tax Increases.  Raises sales taxes .25% (3.45% increase over existing rates) and income taxes on those earning more than $250,000 a year by about 10 to 33% over present rates, depending on the bracket.  Obviously, this is a horrible idea that will only serve to make California less likely to attract any investment or economic growth, with no offsetting benefits for the taxpayer.   Vote NO.

Prop 30: Two-Year Budget Cycle.  This is sponsored by the tax-loving technocrats at "California Forward" who are in favor of abolishing the 2/3 super-majority requirement for the legislature to increase taxes.  That's not in this bill, but these people can't be trusted.  This is a bill by Sacramento bureaucrats for Sacramento bureaucrats.  One, it would spare them the pain of dealing with state budgets on an annual basis by making budgeting a biennial process -- so, even less transparency, flexibility and accountability will attend the process.  More importantly, it sets up additional administrative requirements for local budgeting, and an optional "Community Strategic Action Plan" system in the California constitution, by which local governments that kowtow most effectively to Sacramento can achieve additional funding from a newly established "Performance and Accountability Trust Fund" funded out of general revenue.  This law just makes California governance more Byzantine and burdensome. It would increase administrative burdens at all levels of local government, and increase the power and influence of Sacramento at the local level.  A resounding NO!

Prop 32: Ban on corporate and union contributions to state and local candidates.  Hmm . . just look at the parties for and against this measure.  Currently about $8 million has been raised in support, $37 million opposing, almost all of the opposition money from various public sector unions.  This measure would bar any organization from extracting political donations from wages paid to the organizations members, without each member's individual consent.  Unions hate it because it would decrease their power and influence in politics, but it would not prevent any union members from voluntarily deducting from their paychecks to contribute to their union's favored political causes.  Don't believe the barrage of attack ads -- the only reason this won't reduce corporate political donations is because presently, ONLY unions are allowed to use mandatory dues for political contributions.  This proposition would give union members more control over their paychecks, so what's not to like?  A firm YES YES YES and say a prayer too.  Divine intervention may be needed to overcome the disparity in funding to get this proposition passed.

Prop 33: Car insurance rates can be based on a person's history of insurance coverage ("persistency discounts").  This could be viewed as a pro-free market rule, because it would remove one of the restrictions placed on California insurers by Proposition 103 in 1988, that is, the prohibition against loyalty ("persistency") discounts.  I don't know why insurers see this as important enough to put on the ballot a second time, after a similar measure (Prop. 17) lost narrowly in 2010.  Obviously, the restriction has impaired insurers (or some insurers) profitability somehow.  Sure, a gap in coverage correlates statistically to higher risk of an insurance claim being made, but why can't insurers compensate for that just by raising everybody's rates a little?  On the other hand, there is no reason why insurance companies should not be allowed to set rates that reflect actuarial risks.  Plus, the full text of the changes to the California Insurance Code is clear and concise, and without any apparent trapdoors that might reduce competition in the insurance markets.  A reasonably confident YES on this one.  But I will be very interested to hear Ted Brown's thoughts on this one before punching the ballot.

Prop. 34: End The Death Penalty.  This does a little more than its title says, but most of the curlicues seem acceptable, like requiring convicted murderers receiving life sentences to work, with money being paid into a victims' restitution fund.  Sure, this is institutionalized slavery, but only for convicted murderers, and at least nominally for the benefit of victim's families.  There is some justice in that.  "Give me liberty or give me death" is a fine slogan for violent revolutionaries and passionate martyrs, but in reality, state-sanctioned slavery conditioned on a murder conviction by a unanimous jury seems less offensive than state-sanctioned murder under the same conditions.  On the negative side, the proposition includes a gratuitous $100 million slush fund to the police state "to help solve more homicide and rape cases."  Forgive me if I am skeptical.  Why does a bill to eliminate the death penalty need to be accompanied by spending increases?  Isn't the California government in a budget crisis?  Nobody is getting executed in California anyway, so I am surprising myself by considering voting NO as a protest against the increased spending.  Still, I am leaning towards YES as it is long past time to strip California of the merely theatrical power to deliberately and sanctimoniously, with painstaking forethought, murder its citizens.   On balance, YES.

Prop. 35: Prohibition on Human Trafficking and Sex Slavery.  Funny thing, human trafficking and sex slavery is already criminally illegal, so why do we need this proposition?  Norma Jean Almodovar and Starchild are among the very few opposed, so it might be reasonable for a libertarian to base one's opposition on the title alone plus the wisdom of Norma Jean and Starchild as against the madness of the herd.  The arguments in favor simply cite an unverified litany of horrors supposedly from "sex trafficking," none of which I have ever encountered or heard of from personal experience during a relatively long and unsheltered life in California.  On its face the proposition seems suspiciously like a power grab against anyone in any way involved with the sex trade, which has become a significant free-market activity in the state.  The vast majority of participants, however, are consenting adults.  Most of the actual text of the law seems more narrowly focused.  The most worrisome change may be in the definition of human trafficking: "Any person who deprives or violates the personal liberty of another with the intent to obtain forced labor or services, is guilty of human trafficking." This is a new and much broader definition than formerly applied.  What does it mean to "violate the personal liberty of another" and what is "forced labor or services"? Would any "violation of personal liberty" in connection with the providing of some service cause the person receiving the service to become a human trafficker?  For example, suppose an employer requires employees to report to work promptly at a certain time and remain on the job for certain hours, or else be fired, even though an employee protests.  Does that not involve a "violation of personal liberty"?  What about being required to wear a silly uniform?  Etc., etc.  The point is, the statute could be construed to make any employer or purchaser of services a human trafficker.  On the flip side, the rest of the law seems fairly narrowly focused, and could well be used against corrupt police who coerce prostitutes into sex acts in exchange for leniency.  However, the broad and ambiguous new definition of "human trafficking" is reason enough to oppose it.  Vote NO.

Prop. 36: Repeal of the "Three Strikes" Law.  This will restore more discretion in sentencing by limiting the third strike to "serious and violent" offenses.  The main arguments in favor are based on a supposed correlation to lower crime rates in California since the original three strikes law was passed.  I'm sorry, even if locking up some people for 25 years for petty offenses has reduced crime in California (which is doubtful), that doesn't make it good social policy or morally correct.  One could just as well justify locking up every other random person on the same basis.  "Restore the Three Strikes law to the public's original understanding by requiring life sentences only when a defendant's current conviction is for a violent or serious crime" seems like a fair characterization of this proposition.  Vote YES.

Prop. 37: Mandatory Labeling of Genetically Engineered Food.  Perhaps the most controversial proposition on the ballot for libertarians.  Many support it as a truth-in-advertising requirement.  I've read the proposed statute and it does not seem that complex or onerous at first glance.  But read it carefully. I will not be voting for it, because it forces retailers to label food a certain way, and creates yet another civil enforcement industry suing businesses in California for reasons that have nothing to do with any actual harm to consumers.  Sure, there are already a host of labeling regulations on the books, and this would just be perhaps only another small requirement.  But that does not create a principled excuse to lay another straw on the camel's back.  Proponents of the requirement overlook the difficulty that many producers or sellers of food products, especially small ones, will encounter when importing food from jurisdictions that have no GMO labeling requirement.  How are all the ethnic food groceries and non-chain eateries in California going to comply with this requirement?  My guess is, not at all. Which will make them subject to civil enforcement wherein "the consumer bringing the action need not establish any specific damage from, or prove any reliance on, the alleged violation." Breathtaking.  This will be the ADA all over again, only magnified, and no doubt raise costs for consumers, drive small business and variety in food choices away from California, and enrich plaintiff's attorneys at the expense of small businesses and consumers.  A far better way to handle this issue is to simply allow producers to advertise their products as "GMO free" if they choose to do so.  False advertisers would be subject to existing laws against false advertising, fraud, and unfair business practices.  The free market would supply GMO-free labeled products to those consumers who demand them, without raising costs for consumers who don't really care.  A firm and principled NO.

Prop. 38: Molly Munger's State Income Tax Increase.  A proposition curiously sponsored by confirmed tax raiser for California state schools.   Would increase income taxes even more than Jerry Brown's measure, and on a much broader base, and throw the newly taxed revenue all down the public education rat hole.  That's the ticket!  A reflexive NO vote, no analysis required.

Prop 39: Income Tax Increase for Multistate Businesses.  If this passes, it will actually be known as the "California Clean Energy Job Act" the major feature of which is the creation of a $550,000,000 slush fund called the "Clean Energy Job Creation Fund."   Obviously, this is merely another exercise in crony capitalism and government displacement of the free market.  I was going to analyze the details of the tax law change to see if a principled argument could be made for or against it on the basis of the non-aggression principle.  But spotting this prominent bit of pork at the top of the text just spared me the trouble of such a tedious exercise.  Clearly, a NO.

Prop. 40: Referendum on the State Senate Redistricting Plan.  From Ballotpedia: "A 'Yes' vote approves, and a 'No' vote rejects, new State Senate districts drawn by the Citizens Redistricting Commission.  If the new districts are rejected, the State Senate district boundary lines will be adjusted by officials supervised by the California Supreme Court."  There is no discernible liberty interest either way.  Feel free to vote yes, no, or abstain on the slightest whim.

So what's the tally?  Eleven propositions, six recommended NO votes, four recommended YES votes, and one DON'T CARE.  That's more YES votes than I am accustomed to.  Perhaps I'll have to give some of those more thought.  I recommend www.ballotpedia.org as a place to start your own research, if you are so inclined.