Friday, November 6, 2020
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Friday, November 6, 2020. I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
An Exercise in Direct Democracy in California — With Fascinating Results
Simply out of respect to the complexities of the situation and the uncertainties of the moment seeking not to add to those uncertainties, we're going to defer conversation about the outcome of the 2020 presidential election until after the weekend. Hoping that during that time, Americans will gain a clearer picture and increased confidence in the entire electoral process. We'll know more on this huge question as days and hours unfold.
But as we look back to election day now, rather still close in the rear view mirror of history, we need to go back and look at some issues that demand some attention and Christian worldview analysis. One of these has to do with propositions with different referenda that appeared state by state, but more numerously and perhaps more importantly in the nation's most populous state, in California.
Oftentimes, these referenda, as they are known, or propositions in California turn out to be very important in revealing the worldview of the age, the issues that are before us, and political directions as well. That's especially true in California. California's constitution famously or infamously allows for one of the most dramatic experiments and what comes close to direct democracy in the United States, and this comes by citizen-initiated propositions.
Now, as you look at the words "referenda" or "propositions," a referendum is a question that is presented at least in the American political context to the people. Now, nationally, there is no direct mechanism for this to take place. We are a representative democracy with a federal system. We do not go to the American people saying, "Vote on question A or B." Instead, we elect representatives. We elect politicians, office holders, government officials, who once elected have the responsibility to answer those questions. The election is the way American citizens answer the question. But state by state, various state constitutions in our federal system allow for more direct exercises in democracy in which major questions are presented directly to the voters.
Now, this has a plus side, and it has a negative side, so to speak. There's something rather exciting about the exercise of direct democracy, people voting on these big questions, but there is a significant downside. That downside has to do with the fact that many of these issues aren't actually best handled. They aren't best addressed or best answered by means of direct citizen participation. There is the opportunity for an enormous distortion field. The positive side is that there is an opportunity for a political corrective to the governing class. That's good, but the downside is it is often a distorted question with a distorted field. But let's look at the state of California because that turns out this year to be particularly interesting.
But before we turn to the actual propositions and the results of Tuesday's election day, let's consider how in the world a question is presented to the voters of California. It can come one of two ways by the California constitution. The first way is that the California legislature would adopt a proposition to be presented to the people. By legislative action, it can then be assigned to the voters to make the decision.
But the more controversial and interesting part to the California constitution is it's allowance for individual citizens to initiate action that will turn into propositions to be presented as major questions to the California voters. In which case, the legislature has no ability to stop the proposition at all. So the question would come, how is it that an individual citizen could get a question on the state ballot so that the voters of the entire state get to decide the issue and the California legislature, the governor of California can't stop the process? How exactly does that happen?
Well, it comes originally by presenting the question to the legislature that then approves the wording. The legislature can't stop the effort, but it can make certain that the wording is at least legal to be placed upon the ballot. But once that happens, the initiator has to gain citizen signatures, a lot of signatures. So for example, if you are looking at a proposition that would affect California statutory law, then you need about 623,212, that's a pretty exact number, authorized, authenticated citizen signatures in order to make certain that the proposition will be on the ballot. That's a very high hurdle.
Even though California's population is in the multiple tens of millions, the reality is that in any context, getting more than 600,000 people to sign a petition, that's a pretty significant hurdle, but it happens in California. It happens over and over again, but that does point to the fact that it's not just an individual citizen. There has to be some kind of organizational process behind this because no single individual, no matter how energetic or even hyperactive, could actually individually gain more than 600,000 individual signatures on a petition. But it is possible with a group or with an organization.
But the California proposition process actually allows citizens, yes, citizens to initiate what would amount to a constitutional amendment for the state. But that requires an even higher burden of signatures on petitions. It requires almost one million. At the last count, I believe it's about 997,139. So you need almost one million signatures. Once again, you need an organization, but once again, this actually happens.
Decades ago, citizen initiatives about taxation, most importantly, Proposition 13, actually led to the lowering of tax pressure on state legislatures all across the nation. It began in California, but as is so often the case, what begins in California doesn't stay in California. Proposition 13 had a lot to do with building momentum for the growing conservative movement in the United States. But frankly, that was back when California was far more Republican and far more conservative than it is now.
Now, interestingly, this year, one of the biggest questions, one of the most urgent questions presented to the voters in California was what became known as Proposition 16. That proposition would have taken California off the list of nine states in the United States that legally prohibit any form of affirmative action when it comes to state policy. That would mean in state employment, in state contracting, and in, this is perhaps most crucial, admission to California State Universities. That includes, when it comes to some of those institutions, among the most elite academic institutions in the United States. They have very competitive admissions, and there was a call to allow California to return to a pattern of affirmative action.
But that actually takes us back to the fact that Proposition 16 would have reversed Proposition 209. Now, that proposition is what put California on the list of the states that legally prevent state forms of affirmative action. That was adopted by California voters 24 years ago in 1996. That tells you something about how California has changed in the past 24 years, except Californians in 2020 did not approve Proposition 16.
Now, that's something of a stunner. When you look at how liberal California is and you look at the question of affirmative action, if you were just looking at the electoral map, you would think that allowing a return to affirmative action on the part of the state would have been a big winner in California, which after all in most other ways is not only liberal, but deep, deep, deep pacific blue. But it didn't pass on Tuesday, and it wasn't particularly close. So if it didn't pass, why didn't it pass?
Well, analysis comes down to two issues, which are very interesting. One of them is the fact that in California, the situation of affirmative action became not only an issue that most famously would involve questions of admissions as related to white students and black students, but there was also the question of Asian-Americans, and this is where, coast to coast, we are looking at the fact that many of the calls for affirmative action when it comes to college admissions would have an adverse effect upon Asian-Americans who are disproportionately, positively, the recipients of admission to elite academic institutions. A return to anything that would have numerical goals, not to mention numerical quotas would likely have the effect of lowering the enrollment of Asian-Americans as a percentage of the entering classes of those elite institutions. In California, you have a large Asian population.
But there's a second issue, and it has to do more with the way Californians think than how they might indicate their ethnic identity. When it comes down to how Californians think, is it true or false that California is very liberal, especially on social issues? Yes, that is very, very clearly true. California is quite liberal, but what kind of liberal are Californians? Well, when it comes to the liberalism that now marks the majority of Californians, their liberalism is at least partly tensed with libertarianism.
So most people looking at the vote on Tuesday in California are saying, "How in the world is it that this very socially liberal state didn't approve a very socially liberal proposition?" It came down to the fact that at least a number of Californians, a large number are partly libertarian. That is to say they think of framing these issues in terms of individual liberty. In terms of individual liberty, it doesn't look fair that there might be discrimination either positively or negatively on the basis of race and ethnicity.
It's probably also true that they understood that even if you were committed to some form of affirmative action, it's actually extremely difficult to know how to put together anything that might be, in the end, either just or effective. At this point, we just need to return to the moral wisdom that was offered by the Chief Justice of the United States, John G. Roberts Jr. when speaking of affirmative action, when he stated the issue clearly and candidly. The way to stop discriminating on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race, period.
In California, at least for now, for the majority of voters, that argument prevailed.
Liberal Laws and Libertarian Instincts in California — Voters Speak on Affirmative Action and Ride-Share Apps
But there were a couple of other fascinating propositions on the California ballot. One of them was Proposition 22. Proposition 22 would have refuted the California state government, and it did. The voters passed it. Again, it wasn't particularly close. Now, this comes down to a basic matter of how an economy is going to be structured. In the case of California's legislature and its state government, with pressure especially from labor unions and from existing transportation industries, the pressure was for the legislature to say that companies offering the so-called gig economy when it comes to drivers and cars such as Uber and Lyft, that they should be treated as existing transportation companies, and their drivers should be classified as employees, and treated as if, as employees, they come under all current employee law in California.
Now, here's the bottom line. In general, liberals, including Democrats, largely with the support of the labor unions, they are supportive of maintaining as much as possible of the employment law status quo. This, of course, raises the cost of beginning any new business or any new business model. But of course, one of the most interesting developments economically in recent years is the rise of the gig economy. This means that people are really treated in one form or another as contractors rather than as employees. As contractors, they are not treated as employees when it comes to salary, and benefits, and requirements of all kinds of things that come under the normal context of employment.
In a state like California, those normal employment profiles are extremely expensive. Now, the net effect of bringing Uber, and Lyft, and other typical companies under traditional employment law would be that they would be basically out of business. It would break the business model.
Now, California state government had taken legislative and executive action already basically to say Uber, and Lyft, and similar companies are going to be treated just like cab companies. They're going to be treated just like bus companies. They're going to have to quit their business model of innovation, and they're going to have to hire employees as employees, treat them as employees. In other words, return to the previously legally mandated employment structure. But again, that would have meant the end in California of the economic viability of those two businesses and others like them.
Why? It is because the very economic entrepreneurship, the spirit of innovation that led to the opening of Uber and Lyft as businesses. They're app-based, and of course, you have drivers. They can decide they want to work two hours or twenty hours. You have the situation they can decide they want to work in the morning. They can work in the afternoon. They can work at night. They can work as much or as little as they want to. They drive their own cars or at least they provide the car that is used for transportation, and the transaction is actually between the person who is calling the Uber car and the person who is driving the Uber car.
The innovative idea behind Uber, and Lyft, and other dimensions of the so-called gig economy is that the apps would provide a basic medium and opportunity for the coming together, the intersection and communication of someone who has a car to drive and someone who needs a ride.
Now, on the customer side, the innovation of Uber, and Lyft, and similar companies has been an incredible benefit. It is really clear that there are many customers who want exactly what those companies are providing. If you're looking at the old taxi cab services, if you're looking at the older forms of transportation, they're not as flexible as these new innovative models, but the older models hate the newer models. We can understand why. It is the case that many, if not most, of the existing labor unions want to maintain the pattern they have, and labor unions have one enormously lucrative salary and benefit packages for their labor members in existing industries.
New industries, new economic models cause economic dislocation, a change in the situation. Labor unions, by and large, want to maintain the status quo. The democratic party is the political ally predominantly of the labor unions, but Proposition 22 won. That meant that the plans of the California state government to make Uber and Lyft just like other businesses failed. Once again, you have to ask the question, why?
Well, once again, you have to think about just the facts on the ground. The fact is that a majority of Californians evidently like Uber, and Lyft, and similar kinds of services and did not want to see them disappear. They are also looking at the fact that California as itself a state engine of economic and entrepreneurial innovation didn't want to become known as the state that actually put an end to it.
But in worldview analysis, I think we have to come back to something else, and that is that basic libertarian streak that is still present in California. California said we do not believe that drivers need to be told that they have to work as employees eight hour shifts, that they have to be treated as employees, and told when they're going to show up for work and when they're off. Instead, they are allowed to use their own entrepreneurial energies to work as much as they want to work or as little as they want to work.
Actually, if Proposition 22 had not been passed and California state government went forward basically with eliminating this innovation, then a lot of Californians would actually lose the opportunity to use the gig economy for a second job or to work as much as they wanted to work and to make the schedule what they wanted it to be, taking vacation or time-off whenever they wanted it, working in a concentrated way if they wanted to earn more money. That gets back to some basic issues of economics that have very deep Christian worldview significance.
Here's where we understand that as you consider human beings made of God's image as economic actors, and we are that, the Christian worldview treats us as economic units as far more than that, but we are Homo economicus as well as Homo sapiens. That means that we make things, we sell things, we buy things, we do things, we invest things, we spend things. We are economic creatures, and the fact is that more external constraints that are put upon human behavior as economic creatures tends toward a state management of the economy that tends to create its own distortion field, and at the cost of innovation, and at the cost of efficiency, and at the cost of freedom.
The freedom to enter into a voluntary economic contract is at the very heart of what it means to be an economic creature, which means as an economic agent, I should have the right to contract with someone else for a lawful business on whatever terms we mutually agree are satisfactory. Now, virtually every government puts some constraints on that because after all, we don't have the right to enter into a contract that would amount to organized crime. But when it comes to something that clearly is not criminal activity, but is lawful activity, then we should have the ability to contract on our own terms.
Classical economic theory, free market economics points to the fact that every intrusion, every compromise of that principle comes with an economic cost and also is an infringement of freedom. Now, citizens of California have been willing to accept many, many infringements upon freedom and excessive burdensome taxation. But when it came to basically snuffing out the gig economy in the state, even in California, they said, "No, not so fast."
Residents of Illinois and California Turn Down Propositions to Raise Taxes: Clear Rejections of Over-Spending State Governments
And speaking of taxation, both in California and in the state of Illinois, voters turned back propositions required of them to change the taxation system and to raise taxes. In Illinois, the governor led the state legislature to put forward a proposition that would basically have eliminated that state's already fairly high flat tax for many higher income residents of the state. Now, Illinois is in an economic free fall. It has an enormous unfunded pension obligation because the Illinois legislature, largely in control of one party for a very long time, is absolutely unwilling to come to economic reality.
Now, understand that they are facing an economic disaster of unfunded pension benefits and out of control state spending. But what we saw Tuesday in the failure of that proposition in Illinois was Illinois residents, again, very concerned as California residents about raising taxes when people are moving out of the state for that reason and stifling economic growth. They basically said to the governor and the legislature in Illinois, "No."
The same thing happened in parallel terms in California, which had to do not with the state income tax of individuals, but rather with taxes that would be paid by some corporations. But again, Californians were able to do the math and understand that neither in California nor in Illinois are the citizens willing to have taxation continue to grow and stifle the economy in order to fund an out-of-control state government.
Abortion on the Ballot in Two States with Striking Worldview Differences: Louisiana Denies Any Constitutional Right to Abortion While Colorado Rejects Ban on Late-Term Abortions
But there are some other big issues of momentous importance in state measures. In Louisiana, voters approved a measure that would limit abortion in the state, basically saying that if Roe v. Wade were to be reversed, abortion would be absolutely illegal in the state of Louisiana.
A measure in the state of Colorado went the other way, and Coloradans turned down an effort that would have restricted abortion. Consider the worldview. Consider the demographics. Consider the fact in Colorado, you are looking at a state that has gone from red to purple to blue, and that shows up in a big worldview issue, such as the sanctity of human life. The fact that in Colorado, you are looking at people who said no to an effort that would have restricted abortion. That is likely to be a pattern that will continue tragically so.
High Times in Several States? Psychedelic Mushrooms Are Now Legal in Oregon and Four Other States Legalize Recreational Marijuana
But in several other states, the issue wasn't abortion. It wasn't taxation. It wasn't economic innovation in the gig economy. It was drugs and not just marijuana. Thomas Fuller of the New York Times reported on the general trend with these words, "The march to decriminalize drugs, move forward across the nation on Tuesday, despite continued federal prohibition." Now, the intellectual elites in this country want to liberalize the drug laws. They have for some time, but there's been resistance. You'll notice the resistance is still coming from the federal government that still classifies these drugs as dangerous drugs that need to be limited.
As USA Today reported, voters in at least four states decided to move ahead with legalizing so-called recreational marijuana. Those would include the states of Arizona, New Jersey, South Dakota, and Montana. Now, what ties those together? Arizona, southwest, South Dakota, upper-west, Montana, upper-west, New Jersey, liberal east coast. What ties those things together? A social liberalism because yes, even though on many economic issues, Arizona, South Dakota, and Montana would not be on the same map with New Jersey. When it comes to increasing moral liberalism, they're increasingly on the same map. It shows up in this one set of results on election day.
That does mean that 15 states in the United States have now legalized some form of so-called recreational marijuana. Legalizing so-called medical marijuana was on the state ballot in Mississippi, but the state of all states when it came to the question of legalizing or decriminalizing drugs, that state was Oregon.
Now, Oregon has been trending in a very socially liberal direction for quite a long time, but on Tuesday, it earned a new record for social liberalism. Oregon became the first state to actually legalize a therapy that is based upon a psychedelic mushroom. No, I'm not making this up. As Lizzy Acker of the Portland newspaper The Oregonian reported, "Oregon will become the first state in the country to legalize psilocybin with the passage of Measure 109. It passed by 56.12%." The key sentence in the report is this, "The measure, backed by chief petitioners wife-and-husband Sheri and Thomas Eckert of Beaverton, will allow regulated use of psychedelic mushrooms in a therapeutic setting."
Now, the actual measure that was approved allows for some form of what might be called medical psilocybin. But actually, as you look at the requirements to qualify for this, just about any form of distress is likely to at least gain credible momentum towards gaining access to psilocybin, the psychedelic mushroom. It is interesting that this measure was basically successfully sold to the people of Oregon based upon a therapeutic argument, but the biggest association of psychiatrists in the state were opposed to the measure. I do find it interesting that on many of these moral issues, the very people who keep insisting that we should trust the science, trust the science, when the science isn't with them, they say, "Well, ignore the science. Go with the mushrooms."
The Onward March of the Culture of Death: Voters in New Zealand Affirm Legal Euthanasia
But as we come to the conclusion of The Briefing this week, we need to recognize that these kinds of measures presented to the voters themselves are not limited to California. They're not limited to the United States. Big headlines came recently from the Southern hemisphere with measures like this addressed by voters in the country of New Zealand. In New Zealand, it was a mixed, but very troubling pattern. The pattern came down to this. Voters in New Zealand approved New Zealand-affirming euthanasia. That's a very, very troubling development. That's going to put New Zealand on the list of the nations and in the United States, a few States that allow for physician-assisted suicide. That, again, marks the onward march and progress of the culture of death. Not only subverting the sanctity of human life at the beginning of life, but also at the end.
One issue to note in the matter that was presented to voters in New Zealand is that euthanasia was dressed up simply as an affirmation of personal autonomy. All kinds of safeguards are supposedly put in place, but we have seen, especially in European nations, such as the Netherlands and Belgium, those protections are worth basically nothing.
But on the very same ballot, voters in New Zealand turned down an effort to legalize recreational marijuana. They approved euthanasia, but they turned down marijuana. I'm not exactly sure how to unwind that, but I'm going to leave you with the headline as reporting these issues at national public radio. The headline, "New Zealand Supports The Right To Die, But Rejects The Right To Get High."
I'm going to leave it with that, except to say, I hope we'll be back Monday with a clearer picture of what we're looking at here in the United States once you might say some of the smoke has cleared.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.
I'll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.