Somewhere, Tom McCall Is Smiling

Steve Novick

I am a baseball fan with a strong interest in history, economics and economic history. As such, I am a sworn enemy of the year 1973. I am also an Oregonian and a progressive, so I am a big fan of Governor Tom McCall. So it was with great pleasure that I belatedly realized yesterday that in fighting for Measures 66 and 67, we are fighting to revive one of Tom McCall’s dreams … by reversing the unfortunate outcome of an election in 1973.

If none of that made any sense, let me explain. As Paul Krugman pointed out in “Peddling Prosperity,” from 1947 to 1973 America had a “magic economy,” with the standard of living of the American middle class steadily improving. In 1973, in Krugman’s words, “the magic went away,” and no one really knows why. Productivity growth has never recovered to 1947-73 levels, and the benefits of what growth we have had have gone overwhelmingly to the people at the top of the income and wealth pyramids.

It was also in 1973 that the American League adopted the designated hitter rule. As former Red Sox and Expos pitcher Bill Lee – another progressive traditionalist – wrote in “The Wrong Stuff,” this abomination robbed the game of much of its late-inning strategic drama and made every pitcher into half a player. I have always suspected that there is a connection between the adoption of the DH rule and the disappearance of the economic magic.  As Lee wrote, “baseball is the belly button of America. Straighten out the belly button, and the rest of the country will follow suit.”

It was also in 1973 that Tom McCall presented a tax reform plan to the people of Oregon. McCall sought to change the way we fund schools by reducing property taxes and raising taxes on corporations and rich people. As Brent Walth explained in his brilliant biography of McCall, “Fire At Eden’s Gate,” McCall’s plan was defeated by the same kind of entrenched corporate interests that are fighting Measures 66 and 67.

In the years since, courtesy of Measures 5 and 47, we have certainly cut property taxes – but we never had any replacement, as McCall envisioned. Tonight, we can take a big step toward fulfilling McCall’s vision.

McCall’s plan was more dramatic than 66 and 67 – he would have raised the corporate profits tax rate to at least 9% (not 7.9% or 7.6%), and raised the top personal rate to 13%. So he probably would say we aren’t going far enough.

But there is no doubt in my mind that he would agree that we’re going in the right direction. And there is no doubt that Tom McCall, who enjoyed his victories and took his losses hard, would like the fact that we are winning.

According to Walth, after the tax reform defeat, McCall roared in anguish: “God damn it, it was for the people!”

Well, god damn it, Tom, this one’s for the people, too.

Comments

  • (Show?)

    Thank you, Steve. Superb post.

    I've a borrowed copy of Fire At Eden's Gate sitting on my computer desk, waiting for a spark to read it. You've just provided that.

    I too am an enormous fan of Tom McCall having wonked out on land use issues. I love having another reason to admire his leadership for our state.

  • (Show?)

    I've been active on BO for about three months now, and am delighted that we've FINALLY gotten to the issue that matters. Steve, you're exactly right. The Designated Hitter rule, that crude, clunking trade-off of fascinating strategy for cheap thrills, pushed this great nation over the top and we've been careening downhill ever since. It's great to find an astute fellow traveller on this site,

  • George Anonymuncule Seldes (unverified)
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    If none of that made any sense, let me explain. As Paul Krugman pointed out in “Peddling Prosperity,” from 1947 to 1973 America had a “magic economy,” with the standard of living of the American middle class steadily improving. In 1973, in Krugman’s words, “the magic went away,” and no one really knows why. Productivity growth has never recovered to 1947-73 levels, and the benefits of what growth we have had have gone overwhelmingly to the people at the top of the income and wealth pyramids.

    Great post, with one exception. The change that hit us in 1973 is only inexplicable because Americans are oblivious to the reality that the economy is only a shadow/subset of the environment.

    This well-written, easy-to-understand primer on peak oil (http://energybulletin.net/primer) explains the geophysical issue -- the USA, formerly the world's top oil producer and exporter, hit its maximum extraction level in 1970 (as forecast in a startling and widely derided prediction in 1956 by M. King Hubbert, who used a mathematical model much like a bell curve to forecast ultimate oil flows -- hence the name Hubbert's Peak).

    Oil is essentially free money flowing out of the ground, and if you have an abundance of free money flowing into your economy -- especially if that money is able to do real work or be made into bazillions of useful products -- your economy will boom so much that you will become a huge and hugely productive economy. So much the better if nearly all other nations' have nearly all their factories destroyed in war. That sets you up for a looooong period of unmatched economic growth.

    Alas, all good things end -- if you are heedless of the idea of limits . . . in other words, if you are an American . . . then you don't notice when stop exporting oil and start importing it on a net basis (around '48), and as long as your internal production keeps rising, the fact that you're importing ever more doesn't matter much, because the foreign producers can't raise prices (because you control the price with your excess capacity). BUT, once you peak, you no longer control the price, and an economy built on the assumption of endless nearly-free energy suddenly is one in which other nations set the price.

    You've gone from an abundance of the most vital, basic resource to an addiction to the fuel that is now beyond your control -- currency starts flowing outward at faster and faster rates and your formerly buoyant economy suddenly is "sluggish" -- prices keep going up, even as the economy contracts (stagflation -- unemployment rising AND inflation at the same time).

    Fast forward 40 years and you've got the same problem at a global scale that the US faced at the national scale. We've built a global economy that requires continuous growth fueled by ever-growing energy and material flows. The magic fluid that makes that possible is oil. It seems very likely that global oil production has peaked or will peak -- it will become clear in retrospect.

    The implications are vast and permeate every part of life, just as our dependency on oil does.

    It's not as fun as the DH rule, but it's a much more useful explanation. Failing to understand peak oil while advocating progressive policies is like trying to practice medicine circa 400 A.D. -- you know a little, but most of what you know is wrong and your superstitions are dangerous to your patients.

  • Richard (unverified)
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    I wish I could channel the departed McCall so he could get a message to today's progressives. I have no doubt his messsge would be to stop misrepresenting his values. It's bad enough you've highjacked and warped his land use vision but now you're turning him into into a tax and spend liberal?

    I got news for you. You're no Tom McCall. None of you. And McCall would have been a big opponent of the Roberts, Kitzhaber and Kulongoski regime of government domination and expansion by public employee unions. He's rolling in his grave over your morphing of SB 100 and your debilitating PERS.

    Your phony pretense of similar context between McCall's 1973 and today's 66&67 is entirely lame.

    However there is one important fact for that time period. Oregon was invaded by the Teacher's union in 1974.

    With other similar infections taking place, Oregon began a trajectory McCall would have fought all the way.

    Yet here you are, progressives playing like McCall was a Kitzhaber.

    Since Kitzhaber is currently running again why don't you stick to quoting and referencing his previous two terms instead of distorting McCall's?

  • MLB (unverified)
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    Steve,

    What are your thoughts on the City of Portland giving up our beloved Portland Beavers for Soccer?

    Do you think MLB can ever make it to Portland?

  • Todd Lursey (unverified)
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    [Off-topic gibberish deleted. -editor.]

  • (Show?)

    Nice trip down history lane! Thank you Steve for being "for the people".

  • BOHICA (unverified)
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    The Vietnam war debt was one reason.

  • Cary Mallon (unverified)
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    I love it. Anyone who can quote Bill "Spaceman" Lee in a political venue is pure genius.

    It made me think of the best baseball line ever used in a drama. In "The Wire" a consultant to a Baltimore mayoral candidate tells his candidate that his incumbent opponent "can't spin" his poor handling of the local police. The candidate responds, "A knuckleball has no spin but you still don't know how it's going to break."

    Hail to the scarifice bunt.

  • Zarathustra (unverified)
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    Posted by: BOHICA | Jan 26, 2010 10:00:38 AM

    The Vietnam war debt was one reason.

    Richard Nixon's trying to create a panic with price freezes, during a middle eastern war might be another. He nearly took us over the edge into the fascist dream of martial law. Only time DefCon went as high as Cuba.

  • Zarathustra (unverified)
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    Posted by: BOHICA | Jan 26, 2010 10:00:38 AM

    The Vietnam war debt was one reason.

    And you're no Lloyd Bentsen to be saying it. I don't know any good, dead politician that would be happy with today's state of affairs. McCall would no doubt work to reform his party or become independent.

    Why is there such a compulsion among politicos to lionize the dead members of the other party? From McCain on Truman to Obama on Lincoln, it's downright weird. Next thing you know Palin will be quoting JFK.

  • Zarathustra (unverified)
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    Oh, I was shocked at the "straighten out baseball" bit. I thought I was the only crazy that has been saying "straighten out cricket to save Pakistan". I think the sentiment is spot on.

  • rw (unverified)
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    Tax the rich? I say EAT the rich.

    heh.

  • Stephen Amy (unverified)
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    Steve Novick: I think the economic downturn in 1973 had to do with the Arab oil embargo of the U.S., over the events of the Yom Kippur War and the U.S.'s continued support of Israel.

    I believe '73 was a year (one of two in the '70s- the other being 1979) that had the blocks-long lines at the gas stations.

    Massive increase in energy prices will certainly negatively affect the U.S. economy. The reason the economy while Carter was in office was stuck in the muck was the late-'70s energy shock; while Reagan was lucky enough in midterm of his first term to see enegry prices halved.

  • Stephen Amy (unverified)
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    I should have said that massive increases in price will negatively affect an economy that is in no way prepared to adjust to conservation and/or new sources of energy, which would certainly describe the U.S. economy in the 1970s.

  • (Show?)

    Steve, how right you are! I was the Oregon House Majority leader in '73 when Speaker Dick Eyemann and I pushed the McCall tax reform plan out of a conservative House revenue committee to ultimately get it out of the state legislature and on the ballot.

    I also stumped the state for the measure (as did other Democrats (Eyemann, Senate President Jason Boe, then State Reps. Earl Blumenauer, Vera Katz, Stephen Kafoury, et. al.), only to see the measure fail to those very interests you identify in your post.

    (It saddens me to say that my AA in 1973, a man who helped organize the Democratic surrogate speaking campaign for McCall's plan, was my friend Pat McCormick, who, although still my friend, is the same Pat McCormick who has been hired to lead the "No" effort on 66 & 67!)

    McCall's plan was opposed by legislative Republicans as vehemently as U.S. congressional Republicans are now scratching and clawing against national health care reform. In a famous press release that a fuming McCall, himself, wrote and issued without telling his staff, he called the members of his party a "pack of whining, snarling jackals." (I still have it on file.)

    As I've stated on my blog, I'm hoping the people win this one and that Tom's misguided, latter day whiners and snarlers will lose.

    Thanks for all your hard work, and that of everyone else who has given so much to say "Yes" to Oregon's future.

    Les AuCoin The Les AuCoin Blog

  • (Show?)

    I'm a Bill Lee fan, and not just because my nephew is a neighbor of his in Craftsbury, Vt. It's because I'm a Red Sox fan since toddlerhood and used to see him pitch in Fenway Park. I'm a Steve Novick fan, too, and we share an undying love for the old Montreal Expos. I am, however, a big fan of the designated hitter. If it had affected the economy in 1973, it only prevented things from becoming worse, sort of like the stimulus package. As Bill James has written, the DH doesn't take anything away from the game, unless you think that pitchers hitting below the level of household pets was a good thing. It adds strategy to the game, doesn't take anything away (you can still pinch hit and bunt), and has brought more excitement to my favorite sport. My favorite sport is not very exciting to begin with, and needs all it can get. I wasn't here in 1973. I was graduating from high school in Massachusetts, and happy that Orlando Cepeda was the Red Sox first DH. One day that year, he stole a base. Cepeda ran about as fast as my desk, and for a few minutes, New Englanders sat and wondered how that could have happened. I get another message from the McCall story: Our taxing system has been around for a long, long time, and it's very, very hard to change, unless you're acting as though everything is free and cuts won't hurt anything. McCall wasn't the first one to try, and passing measures 66 and 67 won't be the last. The fight for a fair and free society never ends. Thanks for your leadership on this, Steve. No matter what happens today, we're a little bit closer to making Oregon a better place because of you.

  • (Show?)

    McCall’s plan was defeated by the same kind of entrenched corporate interests that are fighting Measures 66 and 67.

    McCall's plan wasn't just defeated, it was crushed. Do you have some early information about today's election you're not sharing with us, Steve?

  • Zarathustra (unverified)
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    As Bill James has written, the DH doesn't take anything away from the game, unless you think that pitchers hitting below the level of household pets was a good thing.

    In cricket, everyone bats, and most bowl. It is the thing I like about it most, compared to baseball. There used to be a fair number of "rabbits" at the tail of the batting order, but, as salaries and gates have grown, the sport has become more professional. Today, I can count the true batting bunnies on one hand. And, if that is any guide, it would imply that most pitchers love to bat. In the clubhouse, the bloke with the biggest kit and most bats is usually a bowler batting at number 9 to 11 (out of 12).

    It's too bad that the Civil War killed US interest in cricket. Lincoln was a huge fan. The decade before the war, the very first English overseas tour was to the United States. If not for the Civil War tearing up the pitches, baseball probably wouldn't have developed. From what I can see, baseball was pretty much like kick ball today. Everyone has played in in grade school, but no one takes it seriously. Then it became Americanized and the rest is history. Locally, Portland Cricket Club was chartered in 1847, well before most English clubs, part of Oregon's heritage of being in the Hudson Bay Co's territory, well into the 19th century.

    As an esoteric point, one can argue that there wouldn't BE a US, without cricket. George III was not the Prince of Wales. As such, he wasn't the next in line to be king. Legend has it that his older brother was killed by a cricket ball. George III and Lord North, his PM, were about the only ones in Britain that wanted a war with the States. His older brother- who would likely have favored the very statesmanlike Pitt, the yonger- said (as did Pitt) that war with the colonies would be "the greatest tragedy in British history".

    And, BTW, my cat, before retiring from the game due to an embarrassing incident, used to average 25 runs/at bat, so don't diss the "household pets'" batting average!

  • (Show?)

    Why is there such a compulsion among politicos to lionize the dead members of the other party? From McCain on Truman to Obama on Lincoln, it's downright weird. Next thing you know Palin will be quoting JFK.

    It's not Palin, but it's close.

  • (Show?)

    Thanks Steve and Les. As Steve knows, I'm the grandson of someone who played for the St. Louis Cardinals but know little about baseball history other than that, so I always appreciate when Steve enlightens me on the subject. And Les' stories from the trenches are also always greatly appreciated.

    I was living in Vermont in 1973, so I don't have that first hand knowledge. But I read Brent Walth's "Fire at Eden's Gate" and have often thought about McCall's comment "Oregon is demure and lovely, and it ought to play a little hard to get. And I think you'll all be just as sick as I am if you find it is nothing but a hungry hussy, throwing herself at every stinking smokestack that's offered."

    From $10 (and hopefully tomorrow $150 per year) taxpayers like Facebook to those who are chasing empty jobs promises from the "no" campaign, my guess is that McCall is doing a little turning in his grave.

  • Bill R. (unverified)
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    I would like to congratulate you, Steve, for the strong voice of advocacy and policy you have been in this campaign and others in our state. No doubt Tom McCall would be proud also.

  • Peggy Woolsey (unverified)
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    I moved to Oregon in 1970 & immediately fell in love with Gov Tom McCall. Since moving here, I've been registered at different times as an Independent, a Replublican, & finally as a Democrat. I agree with the theory that productivity decreased as energy expenses have increased. My high school Social Studies teacher predicted the ongoing energy & resulting economic crisis. Consequently, I was not surprised by the those trends through the past 45 years.

    What surprised me was the decrease of progressivity in taxes & politics. I've watched the rich get richer & the poor get poorer. I am more than ready for a progressive turn. I hope it will be evident tomorrow!

  • Fred Heutte (unverified)
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    I too see no strong points to the DH. The only thing worse is watching pitchers with a lifetime .067 average attempting, and failing, to hit the ball past the batter's box in the late innings with a close score. Or waiting for the interminable series of pinch hitters followed by "double switches" in the field and overused bullpens.

    I am also enjoying the cricket these days after a trip to New Zealand three years ago, so I'm glad to see there is more interest in it locally here. A terrific game, full of history and tradition, not to mention large helpings of pride, arrogance, greed, nation-sized egos, international diplomatic incidents, the highest of high tech and the lowest of low tactics. And these days cricket fans can douse themselves continually in all this via the interwebs. Wonderful stuff, and I am living proof that someone born in the US can, with suitable coaching, figure out the inscrutable scoring system and talk semi-knowingly of reverse swing, deep backward square leg, googlies and sledging.

    And I'll have more time to do so, it appears, if we lose our own beloved Bevos in the muckup over the stadium...

    I already know what that feels like. In 1973 I graduated from high school in Washington, DC and watched the Watergate hearings all summer while waiting to go to college. With the Senators having picked up and moved to Texas (where they later fell into the hands of one G. W. Bush who used the owner's suite as a place to glad-hand his way into the Texas governor's office and then, sadly. into world history), we had no baseball at all, and not even Senator Sam Ervin could replace that.

    So be careful, Portland. If we lose our ballclub, there is no telling what terrible fate could befall the world.

  • Zarathustra (unverified)
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    can, with suitable coaching , figure out the inscrutable scoring system and talk semi-knowingly of reverse swing, deep backward square leg, googlies and sledging

    Wow! And I can't believe I've never said "sledging" on here! Sometimes it would be best called "BlueSledgers". Best cricket sledge of all time, imho, works just as well for baseball. "You call yourself a batter? I've seen better batters in mi mum's fridge"! Or maybe the Ozzie to the bloke in the opposition that dropped a catch in a world cup final that said, "Awww, mate. You've just dropped the world cup"!

    Enjoy some local pics of the action! MCC's keeper was spending winters in NZ, keeping wicket, so we've got some talent. Of course, there is the Mark Steele joke, "you go to the NZ v India test in NZ on a Thursday, and the captain asks you if you want to keep wicket". He was making a point about how everyone beats England, even if the population diff is 20:1. So true about the 'net. Many English counties steam live over the BBC, no geocode restrictions, and ABC Australia has started doing the same. Also a sports station in NZ. We've followed Canterbury for years. My co. records Surrey matches for web use, and has since 2004, but it's just now getting critical mass. Still rumors that the APL is coming to NY, so we might have pro cricket yet. Gotta give the Pakis something to do/place to play! I hear they've signed Inzamam Ul Haq... In personality, style, life history...you name it, he's a living, Pakistani Babe Ruth. With a beard.

  • rw (unverified)
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    I feel irritated, sad, disgusted every time I hear that those bastards and peeweevils are going to wreck our PGE park. WHY redo it? It is charming as it is. GOsh it makes me nervous to imagine what kind of post-era monstrosity of "improvement" they are going to foist upon us. PGE was the right size for us. And it had its own fusty, wierd loveliness. Put me in mind of sitting in the creaky bleachers watching the Ems play when I was a little girl. Holding my mitt on my lap, next to my brothers, they with theirs. We baseball fools, us kids. And the creaky bleachers and mediocre play was just fine.

  • Ed Garren (unverified)
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    Thanks Steve for giving us that history lesson.

    I just finished watching the documentary "Flow, for the love of water." I also saw Avatar today. The message is always the same, larger corporate greed, all in the name of profit, sucking the rest of us dry, destroying all of the social and economic infrastructure that FDR put in place that made us a "great" nation.

    There is SO much work to do. But tonight, we have won one small battle.

    Regards, Ed Garren Candidate for PDX Commission, seat #3 www.EdForPDX.com

  • Zarathustra (unverified)
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    G factor 10 for back to reality, Ed!

    Posted by: rw | Jan 26, 2010 9:28:36 PM

    it had its own fusty,

    Is that musty funk? Quite an evocative word!

    You have a point that I like to make about sports and money, rw. If you really love a sport, the game can be good without the players being museum exemplars of homo sapiens. I'll take the OCL over the IPL any day.

  • Dave McTeague (unverified)
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    Steve,

    You are one of my heros! Ever the progressive spokesperson.

    I'm also one of those "old timers" who worked on the McCall Tax plan in 1973, back when Les AuCoin was the House Majority Leader and Teddy K and Gratten Kerans were legislative staffers.

    Les, yeah when I see Pat McCormick working against our interests, I too wonder "what happened to him?" as you must.

    Kari, Hey buddy I'm a HUGE T.R. and Lincoln fan, so I'm one of those lionizing the best of the Republican Party. (reading Douglas Brinkley's book on T.R. currently) I'd die to have a major Democrat ever be such a conservationist as T.R.

    Last, Speaker Dave Hunt (my rep. :<) and the others who crafted these measures deserve a huge thanks for a job well done. Real leadership from our Democratic legislators, now that's something!! (OK, Peter you get credit too!)

    <h2>And to the pubies who inhabit this universe; read it and weep.</h2>

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