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Messing With Texas
By ROSS DOUTHAT
Published: August 21, 2011
Josh Haner/The New York Times
Times Topic: Rick Perry
Perry’s critics don’t like to admit this. After he launched his campaign with an extended brag about Texas job creation, there was a rush to cut Texas down to size — to dismiss the Lone Star economic miracle as a mirage conjured by population growth, petro-dollars and low-paying McJobs.
But the more the Internet’s hive mind worked through the data, the weaker this critique looked. Yes, Texas’s growing population has contributed to the job boom, but the boom has driven population growth as well. The influx of people has been too extraordinary to just be chalked up to, say, snowbirds seeking 105-degree retirements. More likely, thousands of Americans have responded to hard times in their home states by moving to Texas in search of work.
As the policy blogger Matthias Shapiro pointed out in an exhaustive analysis, the jobs they’re finding aren’t unusually low-paying: the state’s median hourly wage is close to the national average, and since the recession started, Texan wages have increased at the sixth-fastest pace in the country. Nor are the jobs confined to the oil and gas industries: “Take the energy sector completely out of the equation,” Shapiro noted, “and Texas is still growing faster than any other state.”
On Friday, in a Bloomberg Television interview, Education Secretary Arne Duncan tried to open up another anti-Texan front, saying he feels “very, very badly for the children” in Texas’s supposedly underfinanced public schools. But here, too, the evidence doesn’t back up Duncan’s criticism. Texas does have higher high school dropout rates than the average American state. But then again, Texas isn’t an average state: it’s an enormous melting pot that shares a porous, 1,969-mile border with Mexico. Once you control for demographics and compare like with like, the Texan educational record looks much more impressive.
When a 2009 McKinsey study contrasted Perry’s home state to the similarly sized and situated California, it found that Texas students were “one to two years of learning ahead of California students of the same age, even though Texas has less income per capita and spends less per pupil than California.”
When it comes to minority achievement, Texas looks even better: On the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress math exam, black eighth graders in Texas outscored black eighth graders in every other state.
To be sure, the Texas model doesn’t always impress. (Twenty-seven percent of Texans lack health insurance, for instance, compared with 21 percent of Californians.) But Perry can credibly claim that his state delivers on conservative governance’s two most important promises: a private sector that creates jobs at a remarkable clip, and a public sector that seems to get more for the taxpayers’ money than many more profligate state governments.
The question is whether Perry himself deserves any of the credit. Here his critics become much more persuasive. When Perry became governor, taxes were already low, regulations were light, and test scores were on their way up. He didn’t create the zoning rules that keep Texas real estate affordable, or the strict lending requirements that minimized the state’s housing bubble. Over all, the Texas model looks like something he inherited rather than a system he built.
This means that unlike many of his fellow Republican governors, from Mitch Daniels to Chris Christie to Scott Walker — or a Democratic governor like Andrew Cuomo, for that matter — Perry can’t claim to have battled entrenched interest groups, or stemmed a flood tide of red ink. Instead, many of his policy forays have been boondoggles or train wrecks, from the failed attempt to build a $175 billion Trans-Texas Corridor (the kind of project conservatives would mock mercilessly if a Democrat proposed it) to an ill-designed 2006 tax reform that’s undercut the state’s finances.
But of course none of those reforming governors are currently in the race against him. Instead Perry faces an unloved Republican front-runner, with a weakened incumbent president waiting in the wings.
Which bring us back to that 10-election winning streak. Maybe God really is on Rick Perry’s side. Or maybe Perry just knows how to pick his opponents.
A version of this op-ed appeared in print on August 22, 2011, on page A19 of the New York edition with the headline: Messing With Texas.
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8 Readers' Comments
In their irrational determinism, economic advisors have fooled politicians on all sides into sidestepping a lot of amazing possibilities.
Couple this failure with the foreign policy humiliation of not honoring our US debt holders, and we quickly see the need to turn up the volume on previously muted voices.
It remains to be seen if Perry has hardly any political acumen worth the stage. But as more and more fraudulent schemes get exposed, and with less and less people getting the good parts of the deal, no amount of artfully dodging by a candidate will restore confidence in the integrity of the markets.
The Wall Street Journal backs this up: "About 300,000 of the new Texas jobs were in government. Well over half of them, fueled by the surging population, were at public schools. Employment in the state's public sector has jumped 19% since 2000 [when Perry took office]. Now layoffs loom. State budget cuts, championed by Mr. Perry ... are prompting school districts around the state to lay off hundreds of teachers and other workers...." Meanwhile, the rise in private sector jobs was only 9 percent.
Also according to Think Progress, Rick Perry has "accepted more stimulus money than any other state besides California, and used the funds to close 97 percent of Texas' massive budget deficit. The Houston Chronicle reported that as of July 2010, federal stimulus funds created or saved 47,700 [Texas] jobs."
Worse yet, Think Progress reports "While over 126,000 net jobs were created in Texas over the last two and a half years, the labor force expanded by over 437,000, meaning that overall Texas has added unemployed workers at a rate much faster than it has created jobs."
Even worse, Perry consistently lies about his record of jobs creation. He said the other day, "The stimulus did not work. It didn't create any jobs."
Get over it, Mr. Douthat. Your guy has done nothing to create jobs. Sooner or later, the mainstream media will figure this out.
The Constant Weader at www.RealityChex.com
Stone dead economists and accountants would be able to beat him up on his record in Texas. You can bet that competent research journalists, let alone economists, analysts, and accountants will have no problem doing so.
They've been doing it every year that he's been in office. Why would they stop doing it when he wants to transfer his Huey Long style of government, only in his case favoring the wealthy and powerful, to governing the nation?
But it is not just that Rick Perry himself has little to do with the job growth that everyone claims has been so spectacular under Perry. It is that conservatism has little to do with that job growth. Instead, the job growth has been created by three progressive policies:
1. Texas had far stricter regulations on real estate lending, which helped prevent that real estate market collapse that contributed so heavily to the economic meltdown elsewhere in the country. In other words, contrary to the ridiculous "government is bad" mantra spouted by Perry and his fellow conservatives, it is regulation that saved Texas' economy.
2. Government spending played a key role in the job creation in Texas, providing a full 37% of the job growth since the Bush Recession started and helping to keep the state afloat. This result undermines the conservatives' mantra that stimulus spending somehow failed.
3. Immigration has played a key role in job growth, as having more people willing to work, pay taxes, and buy products creates demand for even more economic production and jobs. Once again, while conservatives try to close down our borders, progressives realize that fixing our immigration system in ways that gets more people on track to US citizenship is a good thing for our country.
In short, not only does Rick Perry deserve little credit for job growth in Texas, but the real credit should go to progressive policies that folks like Perry reject.
Yet all-knowing God is on Perry's side? Really?
Only the God of ignorance.
Your Submitted Comment
CommentMy dear Ross,
With that kind of funny last name of yours I feel, in my very bones, that you ain't no angel of mercy.
So far, I am with you. Is anybody else? I doubt.
This popular item, namely, presidential primaries and subsequent elections have become a fodder for anyone who thinks that they have a new angel, a new spin, a new dogma.
I admit, frankly, I am one of them.
Having admitted my crime by simple confession, I am ready to take punishment.
Rick perry cannot go away by critical analysis, profound punditry, philosophical lecture or a massive outpouring of admiration.
He is a politician. A good one. Not the better one. Not ready for the world boxing championship. Just an interesting item. No more, no less.
Quit casing Rick, Oops, chasing honorable governor of Texas. He is a mirage himself. Perry cannot be a replacement to Barack Obama. Both lack a plan to turn the country around from the mess it is.
...and I am Sid [email protected]