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Paradise Lost: California's Experience, America's Future Revised edition Edition

3.9 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0520243873
ISBN-10: 0520243870
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In Paradise Lost veteran Sacramento journalist Peter Schrag reports on the dark side of populism in America's Golden State. California in the 1950s seemed a land of limitless potential, boosted by world-class public services and Progressive politics; today, however, its future hardly seems unbounded, its services are in shambles, and its politics are increasingly driven by rancor. Schrag places much of the blame on the state's penchant for ballot initiatives, in which citizens can bypass the legislative process and place questions directly to voters. Through a series of antitax and term-limits campaigns, he argues, these initiatives have done serious damage to the notion of representative democracy in the state. Schrag is a liberal, so not everybody will agree with his conclusions, but he is a thoughtful writer who reminds us that the United States often follows California's lead. Says Schrag, "Things had better work here, where the new American society is first coming into full view, because if it fails here, it may never work anywhere else either." --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

California once ranked among the top 10 states in annual per-pupil spending, but over the past 30 years its ranking plummeted to 41st. In this compelling overview of the state's postwar history, Schrag (Mind Control) chronicles the Golden State's descent from "both model and magnet for the nation?in its economic opportunities, its social outlook, and its high-quality public services" to a place of ethnic unrest, unraveling communities and dwindling social services. Schrag heaps particular criticism on California's unruly initiative-driven political system, whose "Byzantine intricacy" perpetuates public disaffection and alienation. The turning point, Schrag contends, was Proposition 13, a people's initiative passed in 1978 in response to wildly escalating property taxes, which "set the stage for the entire Reagan era, and became both fact and symbol of a radical shift in governmental priorities, public attitudes, and social relationships that is as nearly fundamental in American politics as the changes brought by the New Deal." Cogently argued and meticulously researched, Schrag's "urgent cautionary tale" is, if not dispassionate, astonishingly clear in its explanation of how California arrived at its present situation, how it will affect (and indeed has affected) the rest of the country and how it may yet climb back up to more community-driven, dynamic and munificent political terrain.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 370 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; Revised edition edition (August 16, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520243870
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520243873
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.6 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,061,719 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By John B. Maggiore on May 18, 2000
Format: Paperback
"Paradise Lost" is about California governance, but it has national implications and should not be dismissed as a regional book. The topic is governance by ballot initiative, and the impact of perhaps the most influential ballot initiative of them all, Proposition 13.
Prop 13 was enacted in 1979 ostensibly to cap property taxes in California. The campaign for its passage was bankrolled by some eccentric conservative millionaires, and California has been trying to cope ever since its passage. Schrag's book exposes how the seemingly good idea was packaged and sold to a gullible public, how education and human service have suffered ever since, and how the state's tax system has become a Frankenstein Monster favoring long-term wealthy residents and strip malls over more mobile Californians and manufacturing firms.
The strength of this book is its in-depth analysis of the history and impact of Prop 13. The focus on this one initiative is so great that the book is almost about it and not the mechanism by which it became law (the ballot initiative). But this approach is justified to illustrate Schrag's main point, that ballot initiatives are deceptive and make bad laws.
An excellent compliment to this book is David Broder's "Democracy Derailed," which focuses more on the degree to which the ballot initiative industry has become dominated by monied interests. Together, these books paint a bleak picture of states, especially California, where so-called "direct democracy" is a regular part of governance.
This particular form of governance is actually popular because it conveys the illusion of voter-control.
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Because of cuts in property taxes and a reluctance by older, wealthier, white home owning Californians to pay for services they don't personally use; public services in California are underfunded. These public services are used by ethnic minorities whose population has mushroomed in the past thirty years. These minorities are not represented at the voting polls. The polls are dominated by the older, wealthier, white voters who strive to reduce their taxes. The split between the demographic profile of the voters and the users of services is a challenge to California's state finances.
The main themes:
1) Tax revolt;
2) Demographic forces behind tax revolt; and
3) Anti government Prop movement.
Tax Revolt.
The California public sector went from being the Nation's envy in the sixties to becoming among the sorriest in the nineties. In the sixties, California ranked among the top state in per capita spending on schools, universities, and infrastructure. Now, California ranks near the bottom on all counts. This shift was due to the tax revolt started in 1978 by Prop 13.
The passage of key propositions caused budget constraints. Prop 13 in 1978 reduced property taxes by 60%. It shrank cities revenues by 27%, counties by 40%, school districts by 46%. Prop 13 also limited the ability of local governments to raise funds. Any parcel tax to service new bond issuance to fund local services has to be approved by 2/3 of voters. Ever since California schools have been underfunded. The Gann's spending limit, Prop 4, passed in 1979 limited the growth in state and local spending to the % increase in population + inflation. But, school enrollment and inmate counts were rising faster than the general population.
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Format: Paperback
In this book, Peter Schrag explores the forces that made California the "promised land" of the American postwar era, and the forces responsible for its decline. Schrag spends much time discussing the initiative process and is critical of these attempts to bypass legislative decision-making in favor of direct voting on proposals. While initiatives sound good in theory, they can have unintentional negative consequences. One of the initiatives Schrag spends much time on is the disastrous yet popular Proposition 13, passed in 1978. Schrag's discussion of the initiative, its backers Jarvis and Gann, and its unintended consequences are the best I've seen anywhere. It is a classic case of a proposal that seemed to be sincere (property tax reduction) in its aims, but it was utterly disastrous for the state. The education system was once one of the best, now it is one of the worst in the country. Libraries have closed because of lack of funding. California has now become "Mississippified" as a result of the lack of information and forethought of the voters.
This is an indispensable book and a warning to people in other states to avoid making the same mistakes California voters did.
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Format: Paperback
This book, written by Sacramento Bee columnist Peter Schrag, ends with the ascension of Gray Davis to the governorship of the state in 1998 and details the history of much of California's current political and social geography starting with the Progressive Era at the turn of the 20th Century to the Wilson Administration and the infamouse Proposition 187.
Schrag provides a cursory examination of California history leading up to WWII (Progressive Era excluded), but really gets going at the post World War II suburbanization of the state as ranch homes began plowing under the farmland in the San Fernando and San Gabriel Valleys of Southern California (according to Schrag, California gained 1,500 new residents a DAY in 1962).
This WWII boom, according to Schrag, lasted until the 1970's and came to a final end in 1978 with the passage of the notorious, and much maligned, Proposition 13. Up until this time, in a chapter titled "Golden Moment," California enjoyed the highest standard of living in the nation, with the best schools, smoothest highways, and affordable housing in comfortable suburban settings.
However, as the honeymoon came to an end, these same suburbanites woke up and found themselves faced with high property taxes and the burden of funding the social programs of an increasingly liberal federal and state government. What emerged was a genuine anti-government tax revolt that shook the halls of Sacramento as these suburbanites revolted and slashed property taxes and basically bankrupted local governments. The passage of Proposition 13 was a watershed event in California's history and is the portal from one era to another.
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