California, a state of unintended consequences

California is notorious for enacting laws that result in outcomes precisely opposite of what the law was designed to address. Think of trying to cure obesity by prescribing donuts.

Let’s start with high-speed rail. One of the “problems” HSR is supposed to address is climate change. The theory is that the rail project will supplant greenhouse gas emitting automobile traffic. But because of the cost of tickets, lack of promised speed and general inconvenience, transportation experts are in near-universal agreement that HSR will not take cars off the road. In the meantime, the construction of the project is itself putting millions of tons of GHG emissions in the air. Even California’s nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office acknowledged that HSR is a net producer of GHG emissions and will be for the foreseeable future.

How about minimum wage policies? The theory is that low-income people need a “living wage” in order to survive. But if those policies reduce workforce participation and increase unemployment, how does this help low-income people who now have to rely on welfare? If California were serious about its higher-than-average unemployment rate, especially among urban youth, it would relax some of these laws rather than contribute to the disaffection of young people.

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