Photo Credit: Flickr user Omar Bárcena CC BY-NC 2.0
I am ashamed to say that I have only recently signed up for the daily email from the high caliber British webzine Unherd, although I see several of my colleagues have been discovering jewels there for some time.
On Saturday I was alerted to a true masterpiece: The corruption of California—Bribery is the only way to get things done, by Matthew Crawford, March 4, 2023. It begins:
I backed into a spot where I could watch both entrances of the Papa Johns Pizza parking lot, punctual for my rendezvous. To be safe, I had first taken a slow cruise through the lot, on the lookout for the telltale signs of an unmarked police car. I was here to meet someone I knew only as Smog Lady. Adam, the night manager at Autozone had given me her telephone number. Word on the street was that Smog Lady could get me a smog certificate, and thereby cut the Gordian knot of the California Department of Motor Vehicles bureaucracy.
One of the new things I noticed upon my return [to California] was small signs stuck to the side of a car, or printed on posterboard and erected on a street corner, advertising “DMV services”. After some intercourse with a few of these, always conducted in halting, heavily accented English, I came to understand that these entrepreneurs are “fixers”, a species that most Americans are unacquainted with. If you want to get something done in the developing world, you often need to engage the services of a fixer. This is someone who has connections in the bureaucracy, often by virtue of kinship.
Crawford employed “Smog Lady,”
...a toothless matron who spoke only Chinese beyond a few key words in English such as “odometer” and “VIN number”
who efficiently provided him with a CA smog certificate (without the mandatory vehicle inspection of course).
California…has become more like the rest of the world, less like the erstwhile United States. The old European ways of procedure-following are anomalous, and perhaps…made sense only within a framework provided by something like Calvinism, Prussian organisation, ecclesiastical administration, or some similarly ascetic institutional morality that is “no respecter of persons”. By contrast, ties of kinship are easy to grasp, more robust, and make sense to more of the world’s peoples as the ground of cooperation…
Sensibly rejecting an explanatory structure from UC-Berkeley’s notably weak conceptualizer Professor Yuri Slezkine, Crawford says the need for “Smog Lady”’s
…services may be taken as an indication of the direction that state bureaucracy takes under conditions of multiculturalism (think Brazil), particularly in the absence of partisan political competition (think Soviet Union).
Pointing out that
[w]ith the collapse of the Republican Party in California…there is little meaningful distinction to be made between the government and the Democratic Party.
he argues that the California Department of Motor Vehicles has become a revenue-generating fief for factions in the Democratic Party:
The citizenry isn’t feared…In 2018, there was a rash of news stories about five and six hour waits at the DMV…. Covid turned out to be a godsend for the DMV.
The DMV went to an appointment-only system [California DMV is scaling back over coronavirus. Some employees say it’s not enough, by Leila Miller, Patrick McGreevy, LA Times, March 26, 2020]. Crawford describes the result:
Now there were no lines and, more important, no embarrassing news stories about queues. Problem solved.
To the party-state, citizens with their unending needs are a nuisance.
When Crawford finally got into the DMV to get a California license, he was interested to find out that the written and driving test requirements had been waived. He documents that this practice is rampant in California.
His anthropological analysis of the DMV is astute:
In dropping the pretence of its ostensible mission of public safety, the official DMV was perhaps just acknowledging the reality of the unofficial DMV, the one that is likely to be called “corrupt” by people clinging to First-World norms.
In other words, the DMV is splitting the yield from its exploitation of the public with external (but possibly affiliated) entities.
VDARE.com Editor Peter Brimelow’s 1997 Forbes article Privilege-Seeking? Peter Brimelow's Interview With Gordon Tullock is a thorough exposition of this phenomenon, technically known to economists as rent seeking.
The beneficiaries are not drawn from the Historic American Nation:
Having now spent some time in DMV offices in the new California, my impression is that the shop floor operates along the lines of ethnic fiefdoms that overlap somewhat, and work fairly smoothly together when necessary. The Hispanic customers speak their own language with a Hispanic teller, the warm tones and easy gestures of which seem very unlike the bureaucratic mode of address that institutional English is adapted to. There are other languages spoken as well…
The occasional appearance of an unaffiliated Anglo-American such as myself is accommodated easily enough, and in such cases tellers are able to code-switch into officialese. But one does wonder if one is being offered quite the same menu of services…
Extensive documentation of cases of direct bribery is supplied.
Crawford concludes with mock cheerfulness:
You, tender reader, might be scandalised by the ways of California’s DMV, but such a response is a hangover from another era… These new populations have found ways to get things done. Bribery is more efficient (and far less crazy-making) than clinging to First-World expectations in a world that has changed. For my part, I am sincerely grateful for the services of Smog Lady. Diversity is our strength.
In 1992 Peter Brimelow wrote in his epochal National Review (!!!) essay Time To Rethink Immigration of his boyhood encounter with American Air Force families fighting the Cold War in 1950s England:
I remember one young wife showing us the first color slides we had ever seen, of Southern California, and explaining that they hoped to move to this breathtaking paradise when they got out of the service.
They will be old now, if they are still alive. I don't know what they or their children think of the unprecedented experiment being performed, apparently by accident and certainly with no apprehension of the possible consequences, upon the nation they so bravely represented.
I do know, however, that they ought to be asked.
Not only were they not asked, but the feckless California Republican Party has systematically refused to defend them, as I discussed in To California GOP Leadership (Again): LOSE WHITE VOTE, LOSE STATE!!!
California is still about 70% white—a matter of some 28 million people, although that counts white Hispanics. (The actual electorate—American citizens who can vote—of course, is significantly more white and non-Hispanic.) Non-Hispanic whites make up 60% of registered voters in California. Why this population bloc is effectively unrepresented while with similar demographics the GOP controls Texas needs a lot of explaining.
My own view is that the answer is corruption—the iniquitous influence of billionaire donors who for one reason or another (none good) want to prevent the California GOP evolving into the Generic American Party.
For quite a while Conservativism Inc used to shill for support by writing detailed discussions about the decline of California, while incredibly not mentioning the impact of immigration. I discussed this in Who killed California? The Neocons.
One of the essays I discussed there even managed to ignore the fate of 1994’s Proposition 187, which would have ended illegals’ access to public benefits and schools. This was passed with 59% support in 1994 but murdered by Federal Judge Mariana Pfaelzer with the connivance of the state’s political elite.
So far this has been the pivotal moment for the immigration issue in California. Prominent in marshalling stupid GOP leaders to oppose 187 was Irving Kristol’s son, Bill.
Historical causation is intricate. Of course, having a Democratic party owned by certain ethnic minorities deeply saturated in socialist prejudices was going to be a problem. It has been in many US states. But faced with the lethal threat of inundation by economically low quality Hispanics, Californians reacted wisely. They were robbed of the fruits of that wisdom by Neoconservatives, who proceeded to block reconsideration at the State or Federal level for almost a generation.
In Who killed California? The Neocons (3)... and America too? I illustrated how intense this repression was by considering the pitiful groveling that former Reagan speechwriter Peter Robinson felt obliged to do to smuggle in an (absolutely correct) criticism of a particular egregious ignoring of immigration’s role in California’s plight by the horrible Jennifer Rubin.
Matters in California are grim but not in fact desperate. As noted above, the demographics of the state are not actually so different from Texas. Properly marshalling the white vote would give the Democrats a lot of trouble. At the National level, a State of Jefferson would offset the Senate problem. Furthermore a large proportion of the immigrants, illegal and legal, have manifestly very shallow roots in America. When retirement age arrives, many will follow the traditional immigrant path and go home.
But for anything good to happen, the power of the Big Donors over the GOP must be broken.
Email Patrick Cleburne.