Newt Gingrich Rips Off Ross Douthat, Messes with California

Is it just me, or does this column from today's FT by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich sound an awful lot like the one written a month ago by New York Times conservative columnist Ross Douthat?

Gingrich, like Douthat, uses California as a model for how states shouldn't manage their finances, and, like Douthat, uses Texas as a model for economic and budgeting brilliance. The only difference is that Gingrich avoids the explicit liberal and conservative name-calling that is a hallmark of Douthat's column, but even a cursory read uncovers the implicit partisanship.


California, like so many other states facing budget shortfalls, is a victim of decades of reckless spending and unsustainable budgets. It was not always like this. The Golden State’s government services and public institutions – including its prisons – were models for the country in the 1960s and 1970s. But Californian policymakers stopped planning for the future. The state’s population ballooned from 23m in 1980 to 36m in 2008, and demographics shifted dramatically due to immigration. Roads, schools and prisons built with 1975 in mind are now crumbling and overcrowded.

The narrative that Gingrich again tries to push, that always blue California is about to fall into the Pacific because it loves lefty agendas that offer profligate spending, is historically illiterate. The "Californian policymakers" about which Gingrich writes, who took the top notch services and schools California had in the 1970s and ruined them, were the conservatives who started the Reagan Revolution and the national tax revolt. They passed Proposition 13, essentially destroying the California property tax base.

I'm not going to go into the conservative destruction of California too much more; I wrote plenty about this ridiculous meme when Douthat published a column from the same set of talking points. On a serious policy note, let's just say that I agree with Gingrich that California "needs to rethink its long-term budgeting strategies," but that starts with a sensible tax code that generates the kind of revenue Californians demand, not by messing with the extremely flawed Texas model.