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Catching the Stockton Syndrome
Just a handful of days after the city of Stockton, California declared bankruptcy, the city of San Bernardino in Southern California has done the same. As an aside, the small mountain community of Mammoth Lakes, located in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains, also declared bankruptcy between the two, but let’s not count that one, since it was due to a $43 million legal judgment…
But San Bernardino? That does count…big time.
What’s the deal with California cities going bankrupt and why does it matter? It matters not just at the city level, but also at every level. The truth is that some cities are better governed than others; just as some state and national governments are in deep financial mire while others are not.
Simple; poor decisions made over and over again.
What do I mean by that?
When it comes to financial resources, there is the constant tension between economics and politics. Too often, political gain wins out over economic prudence. It’s not just a conflict that is found in city councils or in state legislators or in Congress. The conflict between doing what is fiscally and economically wise versus pleasing some group of people is virtually every where, in every spending decision, in every tax decision, at every level of economic strata.
Easier to say ‘yes’ than ‘no’
And believe me; it’s pretty easy to get caught up in that conflict. I’ll give you a very recent, true-life example. Last night we went to a nice restaurant on the beach named after the famous Hawaiian surfer and Olympian. Of course, being on the beach, it was packed. And, our table was on the lanai, overlooking Huntington Pier and the ocean. It was really beautiful.
The waiter brought us our menus, and I looked it over. Most of the menu items were clearly marked with a price, but the king crab leg entre was not priced. Instead, it has the word “Market” next to it. My wife ordered the prime rib and I chose the Parmesan and caper encrusted Ono fish with wild rice. Our 6-year old? Chicken tenders and fries. But my 15-year-old son, however, decided that he would have 1-pound order of king crab legs.
Now, like most of you, I have a budget that I want to stay within for this vacation. Part of that budget is for dining, of course. Dinner and drinks for my wife and I came to about $100. Now, I knew that “Market” pricing for crab legs is very subjective. Which “market price” was used to determine the price?
My wife and I had had crab legs the night before at about $30 a plate. But that restaurant hadn’t been on the beach. In my mind, I estimated that they would cost around $35-$40, given the better location. I was weighing two choices. Do I act responsibly –and be a total buzz kill, by the way--and tell my son to order a cheaper item?
Or do I rationalize it and give in to my desire to make my son happy and not worry about the budget? I was conflicted. Economic reason told me to at least find out the “Market” price of the legs. But that would only put a damper on our mood. Political expediency told me to forget it, don’t worry about the cost, it won’t break the bank.
What did I do?
My older son ordered the king crab legs without incident…
Except that immediately after he did so, my 12-year old soon decided that he too, would like the king crab legs. Again, the economics of the meal kicked in. It’s now going to cost twice whatever it was going to cost me. But politically, I could hardly deny my 12-year old boy what I had granted my older son, could I? That wouldn’t have been fair, would it? And, of course, politically, to put the kibosh on two orders of crab legs would have made me unelectable in the next Dad election, if there were one. So, in the interest of fairness and in pleasing my constituency, along with the rationale that we are on vacation, after all, I let it slide.
Two pounds of king crab legs coming right up
Of course, the meal was pleasant and delicious, as was the totally unnecessary and absurdly large chocolate fudge ice cream cookie dessert that they placed before us.After the meal, the bill came… I stared at the amount; it was over twice what I had originally thought it would be when we walked in!
The slippery slope of wanting to please people and not be a downer, as well as be fair and not rock the boat, led my dining budget into Stockton, California territory. My wife looked at me as if I had bone in my throat. “How much” she asked. I shook my head, whipped out my card, and gave it to the waiter.
Politics had triumphed over economics…again. The only difference is that I can step back from the Stockton Syndrome, where as, apparently, Stockton, San Bernardino, and quite likely, much of California, is unable to do so.
As for us? Well, today we’re eating at McDonalds…and I’m loving it.
And those are…The Gorrie Details.