The Breakdown | Explaining Southern California's economy

Bullet Points: I read Michael Lewis' big Vanity Fair article on California so you don't have to



"Moneyball" author Michael Lewis looks at California's finances and runs screaming.
Justin Hoch

Michael Lewis, author of "Moneyball" and "Liar's Poker," has a big article in the November Vanity Fair about how dire California's public finances are. His thesis is blunt: escalating pension costs are pushing California cities into bankruptcy — if they aren't already there.

It's a lengthy article, running many thousands of words. It covers a lot of territory. In it, we meet municipal-bond naysayer Meredith Whitney, bicycle hellion and former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and a beleaguered local California government official from the ruined town of Vallejo who's trying to invent a whole new way to fight fires. Boilerplate Michael Lewis, right?

It's a good read, but if you want just the summary — the extremely worrisome summary about where California's cities could be headed — then here you go:

Lewis ends up sounding a cautiously optimsitic note, after his tour of California public-finance Hell. The challenge is huge. But California may rise to it:

When people pile up debts they will find difficult and perhaps even impossible to repay, they are saying several things at once. They are obviously saying that they want more than they can immediately afford. They are saying, less obviously, that their pres­ent wants are so important that, to satisfy them, it is worth some future difficulty. But in making that bargain they are implying that, when the future difficulty arrives, they’ll figure it out. They don’t always do that. But you can never rule out the possibility that they will.

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