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Why Greece and Spain Are Better Off Than California

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OPINION: Why Greece and Spain Are Better Off Than California

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ATHENS, GREECE - MAY 4: Members of Communist Party of Greece (KKE) protested austerity measures imposed as a condition to economic assistance. Joe Mathews says European governments are doing more than California to fix systemic budget problems.

It has become commonplace to lump California in with European countries such as Greece and Spain when it comes to talking about places that are overwhelmed by big budget deficits and debt.

It's also unfair.

California's financial problems, as serious as they are, are very modest compared to those countries. California's debt and deficits are tiny fractions of the state's annual input. That isn't true in these European nations.

But that shouldn't be the end of the conversation.

While comparing California to Greece and its problematic European friends is bogus fiscally, it's a very fair comparison when it comes to the question of how those countries are responding to crisis.

In short, Greece, Spain and Irelandare making big, painful changes to how they govern themselves in response (though the Greeks may end up rolling back some of those changes in elections this coming Sunday).

There have already been significant changes, and there is real movement in all three European countries to draft new constitutions.

Heck, even former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's home country of Austria is getting in on the constitutional action.

In addition, on the European level, Germany and other nations are calling for revamping the broader agreements that bind the country together through the European Union.

In comparison, California's attemps to reform itself seem modest -- and limited to one-off ballot initiatives. There is no real effort to change the constitution -- indeed, the whole idea is dismissed as outlandish and unrealistic.

One could argue that's because our fiscal challenges, while severe, are not that big in the grand scheme of things.

That's true in one sense. But in another, California's problem is less about its amount of public debt and more about its broken governing system, and the inability of that system to reckon with its budget or those problems.

One would think that, given this reality, California would be leading in constitutional reform.

Instead, we're trailing Greece.

Lead Prop Zero blogger Joe Mathews is California editor at Zocalo Public Square, a fellow at Arizona State University’s Center for Social Cohesion, and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (University of California, 2010).

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