France and Oregon


While France rid itself of a monarchy hundreds of years ago, it has never overcome its deference to a ruling aristocracy. A relatively small group of political and financial elites, related by family, marriage, school and inheritance have ruled France — even during times of occupation. Although not every member of the French government is a part of this ruling elite, it does effectively control the leadership of the various major parties and thus the progression through leadership and high office. The same ruling aristocracy is also found in ownership of the media and the financial institutions of France.

One of the peculiar traits of this ruling elite is the tendency to deride any policy initiative that does not originate in France. It is this myopic view that continues to delude the French into thinking that France remains a “world power.” That “Not Invented Here” syndrome has consigned France to the status of an “also ran” in the world’s economy.

There is a bit of “France” in Oregon politics. There is a political elite class in Oregon. While membership is not limited by birth, it is bred from relationships formed through families, friends, marriages and relationships. Many have attended the same Portland high schools, Oregon colleges and post graduate studies at the nation’s premier universities. They have worked for each other, married each other, had affairs with each other, belonged to the same clubs, business associations, and charities. Even those who have migrated to Oregon from elsewhere are vetted and then incorporated into the same social structures where they face being ostracized if they fail to conform to the prevailing orthodoxy. It is a relatively closed society and one that, like the French, believes in its own intellectual superiority.

And, like the French, Oregon’s ruling elites seldom reflect the views of the majority of its citizens. But since they are in power, they can impose their views on the citizens — even, at times, when the citizens object. The whole Oregon political cache of “things look different here” is simply a reflection of that closed minded, intellectual snobbery of the ruling class. In fact, one could assume that “things look different here” is simply a synonym for “not invented here.” Oregon’s political elites have a long and checkered history of assuming that their “solutions” are THE BEST and that the rest of country will soon adopt their every thought. In the 70’s, they adopted Oregon’s centralized land use planning which permitted government to take the use of private property without compensation. It was haled as the model that the rest of the nation would soon adopt — thirty years later and not a single state has adopted it. Almost twenty years ago, these same political elites adopted CIM/CAM as the model for educational reform and yet not one other state has adopted it. Portland’s vaunted light rail system is touted as the model for mass transit even while it destroyed it’s downtown traffic capabilities and succeeded only in moving traffic from efficient and flexible buses to the costly and inflexible rail system. Yes, other cities have light rail but none seemed to have gummed up their urban centers like Portland.

All of this is a long way of suggesting that better ideas exist all across the United States. As I noted last week, Nancy and I have been on an extended trip across the West visiting family and friends. Every morning I grab the local newspaper and read it stem to stern to see what is going on elsewhere. This past week we stopped in Missoula, Montana, to visit my mother. The local newspaper carried an article about a plan adopted by the city and county to preserve open spaces and environmentally sensitive areas. No, they didn’t follow Oregon’s lead and simply take the use of people’s land. Rather, they had an election at which voters approved a bond issue for the sole purpose of purchasing these lands or the use of these lands. Now both the city and county governments are working closely with landowners and Natures Conservancy to acquire these lands or rights of way to these lands to preserve their use for environmental purposes.

Wow! Who would have thought that about such an obvious and common sense solution? Well, just about everyone outside of Oregon. This is a practice that can be found in a multitude of states. Maybe Oregon’s political elites could learn a lesson from their country cousins.