In California, more laws mean less freedom

Progressives in California, more than elsewhere, forget the history and inspiration behind the founding of the United States. Our very system of government – with divided powers among the three branches of government – reflects an effort to ensure that political power never becomes consolidated in one person or institution.

The same is true with respect to the federal government’s relationship to the states. Again, the national government is (or was intended to be) a government of limited constitutional powers, and powers not specifically enumerated in the Constitution were reserved to the respective states. And capping it all off was a Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the Constitution.

If it isn’t obvious by now, it should be. The primary function of government in America, either at the national level or by the states, is to preserve liberty. But to progressives, this simple statement sounds as foreign as ancient Greek. To them, the primary function of government is to redistribute wealth and expand government into all aspects of our lives. They possess the false belief that decisions by elites who control our public institutions are superior to the decisions made by ordinary citizens.

This “government is better” thinking is reflected in several of the new laws that take effect on January 1st. For example, the controversial Assembly Bill 5, which severely restricts the use of “independent contractors,” has the potential of inflicting real damage to California’s gig economy as companies will no longer be able to contract with individuals who seek part-time or seasonal work in a way that provides people with flexibility over where and when they work.

Two more new laws which restrict freedom include a mandated increase in California’s minimum wage, which forces employers to pay more to their employees than the market would otherwise require, and a new rent control law prohibiting owners of rental housing from raising rents more than a certain amount annually.

Here’s the real irony. What all three bills have in common, besides restricting freedom, is that each will produce outcomes exactly opposite of that intended by progressives. AB5 means less flexibility for gig workers including Uber and Lyft drivers, freelance writers, photographers and a legion of other jobs that provide good revenue to those who perform them. It also means loss of employment. Even before AB 5 goes into effect this week, dozens of freelance writers have been told that their contracts will not be renewed.

Loss of jobs is also an inevitable result of California’s mandatory increase in the minimum wage. Even with the strong national economy, there has been a huge increase in restaurant closures throughout California due to this law.This may explain why, over the last 12 months, Texas has increased its total employment by an amount more than 10 times that of California

The imposition of rent control has likewise resulted in a “petard hoisting” for California. Even before the law takes effect, landlords fearful of future unanticipated costs have increased their rents to the maximum amount allowed – and will continue to do so indefinitely – resulting in potential higher rents than a free market would dictate. Similarly, investors will now have to assess the risks associated with the California rental housing market, which already has a questionable reputation, before putting their cash on the table.

Unfortunately, it is doubtful that California’s elected leadership will soon experience an epiphany about the damage that flows from their policies. It is even less likely they will ever grasp what the protesters in Hong Kong, Tehran and Caracas already know: that humans, by their nature, are better off when government interferes in their lives as little as possible.

Rights, property understood, are restrictions on government actions, not an entitlement to free stuff. We have a “right” to speak, to assemble and to practice our religious beliefs. We have a right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures and, yes, a right to bear arms. This is why we have a Bill of Rights, not a Bill of Freebies.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association (