Curley Effect in California
By David Henderson
James Michael Curley, a four-time mayor of Boston, used wasteful redistribution to his poor Irish constituents and incendiary rhetoric to encourage richer citizens to emigrate from Boston, thereby shaping the electorate in his favor. Boston as a consequence stagnated, but Curley kept winning elections.
This is from Edward L. Glaeser and Andrei Shleifer, “The Curley Effect,” May 2002.
In their paper, Glaeser and Shleifer write:
We call this strategy–increasing the relative size of one’s political base through distortionary, wealth-reducing policies–the Curley effect. But it is hardly unique to Curley. Other American mayors, but also politicians around the world, pursued policies that encouraged emigration of their political enemies, raising poverty but gaining political advantage. In his 24 years as mayor, Detroit’s Coleman Young drove white residents and businesses out of the city. “Under Young, Detroit has become not merely an American city that happens to have a black majority, but a black metropolis, the first major Third World city in the United States. The trappings are all there–showcase projects, black-fisted symbols, an external enemy, and the cult of personality” (Chafets 1990, p. 177). Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe abused the white farmers after his country’s independence, openly encouraging their emigration even at a huge cost to the economy.
I think something similar is happening in California. California has become a heavily Democratic state. The majority Democrats in the legislature and the Democratic governor are pursuing highly wasteful projects: a “high-speed” rail that probably won’t be high-speed but will surely be high-cost, and higher marginal income tax rates (already among the highest in the United States) on the highest-income people, to name two. They don’t seem to be restrained by the worry that many of the most-productive people will leave and are leaving the state. You can attribute this simply to ideology, and I’m sure that’s an element. But I also think one of the Democrats’ goals is to reduce the population of potential anti-Democrat voters so that their majority is assured.
Will that hurt many of the people who vote for them? Sure. But we need to distinguish between the fortunes of those who vote Democrat and the fortunes of the Democratic politicians. The California state government pays legislators pretty well in pay and perks when you consider the opportunity costs of many of them. And the state government is larded with high-paying sinecures for those few who ever lose an election or get redistricted out.