A politician who isn’t afraid to talk about overconsumption

Business Week recently ran a good story by Joel Stein headlined How Jerry Brown Scared California Straight.

Jerry Brown, being sworn in as California governor in 1975
Jerry Brown, being sworn in as California governor in 1975

Mostly it’s about how Brown cleaned up California’s fiscal mess. I was struck by the fact that, unlike most members of Congress, and our president, who generally tell people what they want to hear, Brown is a grownup who isn’t afraid to say what he thinks. Maybe that’s what happens when you turn 75 and you have been in politics forever. You get tired of pandering. Brown was first elected governor of California in 1975, for crying out loud.

Anyway, here’s my favorite passage:

Brown believes California has been led for too long by “I want.” His office at the Capitol is empty except for two photographs, some books, a couch, a coffee table, and a thick wooden table with a monastic bench. Many of his staff offices are empty, too, since he has barely any staff; the governor doesn’t employ a chief of staff or speechwriter.

This is a man who remembers World War II ration cards with fondness. “This idea you can have ice cream every night? Ice cream was for your birthday,” he says about his childhood. “It wasn’t an austere world. In fact, it was a normal world. It’s only austere juxtaposing the indulgence, the overconsumption, the profligacy—people don’t like those words because part of our economic growth is buying all this stuff.” Brown, who took a vow of poverty and chastity and lived in near-total silence while studying for the priesthood in the late 1950s, cites the Jesuit philosophy of tantum quantum: take what you need.

The best line: “Ice cream was for your birthday.” We need more leaders like Jerry Brown. The rest is here.


  1. says

    I remember my dad speaking fondly of Brown when I was a kid growing up in California. Brown was frugal then, too, and Dad saw him in economy class on a commercial airline.

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