Michael Lewis on California

Michael Lewis’s latest chapter length depresso is about California and how many of the cities there are pretty royally fucked because of pension promises that will begin to come due very soon, and in some cases have already begun to cause problems. One thing I learned, the states won’t ever have to bust their budgets because they can force more and more costs on to the cities. (I guess counties can do this, too, because this is exactly what happened in Topeka yesterday, where the city council voted to decriminalize domestic battery in order to force the county district attorney to start trying these cases again. He stopped last month citing budget concerns.) Anyway, we’re screwed, so here’s Lewis talking about a bike ride he took with Schwarzenegger.

He hauls a bike off the back of the car, hops on, and takes off down an already busy Ocean Avenue. He wears no bike helmet, runs red lights, and rips past do not enter signs without seeming to notice them and up one-way streets the wrong way. When he wants to cross three lanes of fast traffic he doesn’t so much as glance over his shoulder but just sticks out his hand and follows it, assuming that whatever is behind him will stop. His bike has at least 10 speeds, but he has just 2: zero and pedaling as fast as he can. Inside half a mile he’s moving fast enough that wind-induced tears course down his cheeks.

He’s got to be one of the world’s most recognizable people, but he doesn’t appear to worry that anyone will recognize him, and no one does. It may be that people who get out of bed at dawn to jog and Rollerblade and racewalk are too interested in what they are doing to break their trance. Or it may be that he’s taking them by surprise. He has no entourage, not even a bodyguard. His former economic adviser, David Crane, and his media adviser, Adam Mendelsohn, who came along for the ride just because it sounded fun, are now somewhere far behind him. Anyone paying attention would think, That guy might look like Arnold, but it can’t possibly be Arnold, because Arnold would never be out alone on a bike at seven in the morning, trying to commit suicide. It isn’t until he is forced to stop at a red light that he makes meaningful contact with the public. A woman pushing a baby stroller and talking on a cell phone crosses the street right in front of him and does a double take. “Oh . . . my . . . God,” she gasps into her phone. “It’s Bill Clinton!” She’s not 10 feet away, but she keeps talking to the phone, as if the man were unreal. “I’m here with Bill Clinton.”

As a bonus, here’s a profile of Lewis from NY Mag.

Michael Lewis on California

One thought on “Michael Lewis on California

  1. I’ve been enjoying most of this series by Lewis, but this one is not quite as informed as the others. He cites Meredith Whitney a lot, and although she knows about banks, she knows less about municipal finance than than almost any of her peers. Here’s a good analysis of the piece from someone who actually knows what she is talking about, if your interest reaches that level: http://self-evident.org/?p=931

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