The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
California: Where You Need A Lobbyist To Build A House

Over at Matt Yglesias’ new blog Moneybox, Via Meadia‘s research team came across a smart post from earlier in the week that cuts through the complaining and over-analyzing of the story about Mitt Romney’s upgraded beach house, and gets at a real problem most people have missed: to put on an addition at your house, you shouldn’t need a lobbyist.

Here’s Yglesias:

Romney’s house sounds tacky and extravagant, but it’s not some kind of public safety hazard in urgent need of regulation. You shouldn’t need dedicated lobbyists to get permission to build buildings on property you legitimately own. At the end of the day, Romney is going to be able to hire the lobbyist and get his mansion built. But these same hurdles afflict people who might be interested in affordable housing for low-income people or simply regular old market rate structures for the middle class.

Exactly right. The country’s most populous state is strangling itself in red tape. And if you need to hire a lobbyist to negotiate the permit process for building a home, ask yourself what starting a business or building a factory will involve.

Here at the other end of the country we have the same kind of trouble; people have to hire “facilitators” to push all the paperwork through all the bureaucracies needed to get simple and very ordinary jobs done. Every year, there are new requirements, new fees, new mandates as New York City works systematically to destroy its economic base and drive the middle class into the burbs.

The biggest victims: the middle class and the poor.  It’s hard to quantify the jobs lost, the revenue foregone, the opportunities killed by the bureaucratic monstrosity the Golden State has spawned, but in California as elsewhere, the blue social model is killing hope.

Published on March 31, 2012 7:00 pm
  • Tim Ozenne

    It’s all part of the plan. First, they make it difficult to do ordinary things, then a politician or a high ranking bureaucrat or an “innovative program” comes forth to enable an ordinary thing to get done.

  • Vilmos

    A while ago I read from Mark Steyn where he mentioned that in order to open a restaurant in New York, one needs 30 permissions and 23 inspections. And this still doesn’t allow to sell alcohol. Also, he mentioned that the City’s solution was not to cut the permissions/inspections but to set up yet another agency which will help you navigate through the already existing ones. This is the point when IMO there is no hope for reform. When the authorities’ solution for the overbearing red tape is to install yet another, then something drastic is needed. For example, firing every single person working for these agencies, abolish the agencies and their rules, and start over from scratch and ensure that those who had even remote responsibility for the previous mess cannot get a job at the new ones.

    Vilmos

  • Anthony

    WRM, I believe you posted (probably a year ago) an essay speaking to need of disintermediation – concept/idea begs for introduction…

  • petty boozswha

    If I had won the lottery this week one of my pet projects would be to hire a think tank to investigate the possibility of a Pigovian tax surcharge on the income of lobbyists. Maybe starting at a 50% income tax surcharge, raising to 95% for former members of Congress or their staffs. Let Newt Gingrich try to say he was a historical consultant – I think the IRS is used to applying substance over form rules to that kind of claim.

  • Gary Hemminger

    The problem is much deeper than you suggest Professor. The fact that it is difficult to build a house or do anything in California without massive regulatory burden is in fact seen by most people in California as a good thing not a bad thing. I know, I have lived here all of my life. Most Californian Democrat are Malthusian’s, and most Californian’s are Democrats. The poll you showed last week that indicated more people care about the economy rather than the environment simply is not the case here. When push comes to shove, the main problem is that the upper and upper middle class in California don’t want the majority of Californians to share their style of life, because they believe that this will create environment destruction. Look at Google, Facebook, Apple and others. They move all of their datacenters to cheap energy locations, then push for strict limits to carbon emissions here in California. It is a NIMBY mindset with a deeply Malthusian ideology. Scrooge would have been proud (before his conversion).

  • WigWag

    “Here at the other end of the country we have the same kind of trouble; people have to hire “facilitators” to push all the paperwork through all the bureaucracies needed to get simple and very ordinary jobs done.” (Walter Russell Mead)

    Actually the term of art in New York is not “facilitators;” they are called “expeditors.” I would have guessed that this is a profession that Professor Mead admires. After all, expeditors are precisely the type of “value added intermediators that he has assured us in earlier posts will be occupying the great jobs in the new economy that he is anticipating.

  • Mark Mazer

    “It’s hard to quantify the jobs lost, the revenue foregone, the opportunities killed by the bureaucratic monstrosity”

    Try this as a metric:

    http://eponline.com/articles/2009/05/05/so-you-want-a-paint-booth.aspx

  • ErisGuy

    “The country’s most populous state is strangling itself in red tape”

    it has always been the goal of the blue-state model to produce a society with a small class of wealthy and powerful people whose lives are unencumbered lording over masses of poor subject to myriad restricting laws. To the poor the governors supply basic necessities, making them dependent on the government while the governors congratulate themselves on their charity.

    To California I can say only “More! More! More!” Wallow in it. Follow your dreams! An addict needs to hit bottom and someone must be the bad example.

  • Jeffersonian

    In Brazil, the “facilitators” are called “despachantes” and are skilled in shepharding any number of paperwork requirements through the bureaucracy. When I lived there in the mid-80s, I used to laugh and shake my head at the silliness of it all. Now it’s standard fare in blue states.

    Congratulations, Blue America, you’ve finally reached third world status.

  • OWS D

    What a bunch of horse hockey this article is indeed. You really buy into this? Did you miss the part where the repubs slash our civil rights and spy on everyone and everything in this country since the Cheney Bush takeover like as in the (un) patriot (ic) act? Their morally and ethically bankrupt. And what about the Wall Street rip off and the Bush Bailouts? Catrina? The list is huge. You wrote: “it has always been the goal of the blue-state model to produce a society with a small class of wealthy and powerful people whose lives are unencumbered lording over masses of poor subject to myriad restricting laws.” Now that’s a great definition of the Repubs! Thanks!
    Fact is our unelected corporate tea party government COULD give ALL of our citizens employment at living wages. You really buy that it’s “regulations” fault??? Try unprecedented corporate greed for a much more truthful answer folks. You do have a right to express your opinion though, I’ll give you that. Is it Really your opinion?

  • Sabre17

    It is just governmental creep — California always leads the way. Why should most people have to hire an accountant to sort through their life to submit their taxes? I guess I’m not surprised you need help to build a house. I’m guessing the efforts to get all the approvals aren’t deductible or even go against the basis.

    sigh…

  • Bobo from Texas

    tis is the Hope&Change! that our President wants to spread throughout the nation.

    Isn’t it wonderful?

  • Koblog

    You asked what it would be like to open a business? Well…

    A friend of mine tried to open a photo gallery in Los Angeles. The city’s permit process was for him first to get signatures from all his neighbors. To do this, the city pointed him to just such an expeditor as mentioned here. Cost for the forms and the “expeditor”? Estimated $7,000.00 but final cost unsure.

    That, with no guarantee he’d be able to open the gallery.

    The building sits empty with no commerce, no tax income for the city.

    And a team of faceless, overpaid, pensioned bureaucrats sits back, arms crossed, confident they stopped another scofflaw.

    NEWS ITEM: Los Angeles to lay off 300 bureaucrats because the city is going broke.

  • Jim

    I don’t know of the direct effects of California’s regulations on me, but the empty buildings in silicon valley are the best example I see on a daily basis. Get that – “empty” buildings.

  • Mark in Texas

    “Every year, there are new requirements, new fees, new mandates as New York City works systematically to destroy its economic base and drive the middle class into the burbs.”

    So the middle class are the big winners because they get to move away from the worst excesses of the blue state mentality.

  • http://www.texasscibbler.com Dick Stanley

    A hell for minorities? Not for the illegal Hispanics, according to Mark Steyn in his After America. Uh, well, they won’t qualify as minorities for much longer.

  • Micha Elyi

    Almost certainly this lobbyist for a beach house story is due to the legacy of a California voter proposition passed long ago supposedly to keep the wealthiest from monopolizing the beachfront and ocean view properties in the state.

    Wasn’t it Charles Murray who once opined that as the laws grow more numerous and complex, eventually they become functionally equivalent to having almost no law at all?

    Think about all the facilitators, expeditors, lobbyists and lawyers carrying appeals to regulatory boards and agencies and consider how much their activity – for a fee they’ll ‘help’ one get the necessary permissions – is functionally like paying a mob fixer back in the Bad Old Days™ who’d grease the right palms, pull the right strings, and put in a word with the insiders so that one is granted the necessary official permissions to open a store, start a business or build a beach house.

  • Paul from the Cape

    Home. Land. Family. Buisness = Hostages to the state and its agents.

  • Some Sock Puppet

    OWS – you do realize that Al “Sex-poodle” Gore was pushing hard for the clipper chip to be required in every household phone so the FBI could just flip a switch and listen in to phone calls, right?

    Cell phones and the digital age bypassed the need for it for the most part, but it is not a left/right issue, it is a way-too-big-for it’s-britches-government issue.

  • Rich K

    Now now, the poor OWS guy probably just tripped over the dead folks in the park and fell in here with nothing to say,So,he spewed out the TPM/Journolist version of america today. Isnt that nice.

  • jw

    Awwwww, Yglasses is all [hurt] over how the mindless creature that he and his commrades in disaster built is tearing through the village and doing all sorts of things they never told it to do.

    [Profanity removed] you, Yglesias. You created this beast by voting for these power-mad clowns again and again, not to mention carrying their water and viciously attacking anyone who said differently. Go whimper and whine about the results to someone who [profanity removed].

  • http://www.libertasfilmmagazine.com/ Patricia

    A contractor friend said that the new regs (in anticipation of AB 32) in a nearby beach city added about $80K to the cost of each of the homes they were building. The fighting with the city added aggravation to cost. They all said never again and retired.

  • Mchl13

    All we need in Chicago are dead presidents.

  • tom murrell

    Build a house!!! I bought a Fanny Mae foreclosed home and began getting threatening letters from Ventura County and have made every possible effort to comply with getting permits for a home that allegedly does not have permits and the county has know this for over 30 years. I would just like to keep my house. I can’t get the money to comply in their timeline and now they placed a lien on the home and filed charges on me. Our family is on my single salary and we have nine children. Due to my vocation, I could lose my job over a conviction. Just civil servants serving the community??

  • Kris

    OWS@10: An OK parody, but a bit too obvious, no?

  • Glen

    Gary Hemminger is absolutely right. California’s politics aren’t dysfunctional – we have exactly the government that we want. The localities with the heaviest regulatory burdens are also the wealthiest. No one wants less regulation and no one complains about hiring lobbyists or expeditors.

    Of course, the result is almost nothing new gets built (and few non-favored businesses get started). But that’s what everybody wants. Nothing is likely to change until these Hollywood/Silicon Valley Baby Boomer plutocrats begin dying of old age.