How can California shrug off crises the way that Rome does?

By Joe Mathews

How will California survive the end of America’s empire?

The question might seem hypothetical, but I found it inescapable last week in Rome, where I ran a global forum on the future of direct democracy. Our forum’s mission was hopeful: Hundreds of participants, from 80-plus countries, discussed how to democratize the world’s democracies.

But each morning, I encountered the less-hopeful remains of fallen empires.

To reach Rome’s city hall, the conference site, I had to...

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