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Yes Virginia, There Is A Texas Exception

17 August 2011

3:07 PM

17 August 2011

3:07 PM

It’s long been obvious that a large part of Rick Perry’s campaign would be built on a simple message: It Worked In Texas. Perry is fond, understandably, of claiming that 40% of all new jobs in the United States lately have been created in Texas. That’s a powerful soundbite. Consequently, it’s important for Democrats – see Paul Krugman for example –  to debunk the idea of a "Texas Miracle".

True, unemployment in Texas is more or less the same as in Massachusetts. True, Texas’s oil and gas (and wind) industries have helped the state through difficult times. True too that the state has a looming education problem and that one in four Texas are without health insurance. And it’s also true that if other states tried to emulate the Texas model then some of the Lone Star state’s comparative advantage might be eroded.

Nevertheless, while reasonable all this quibbling misses the main point. Which is this: since the recession began in the winter of 2007 more than 700,000 people have moved from other states to Texas. That’s an astonishing statistic. Whatever problems the state has – and they are real – they are at least partially refuted by this single statistic. The American people are voting with their U-Haul vans and they’re choosing Texas and moving to Dallas and Houston and San Antonio in search of work (and affordable housing). Or, to put it another way, if this weren’t happening the unemployment rate in other states would be even higher than it presently is.

Political Math has a must-see set of charts demonstrating just how exceptional Texas’s position really is. His conclusion?

You may have noticed that I don’t mention Rick Perry very much here. That is because Rick Perry is, in my opinion, ancillary to this entire discussion. He was governor while these these numbers happened, so good for him. Maybe that means these jobs they are his "fault". Maybe the job situation is the result of his policies. Or maybe Texas is simply the least bad option in a search for a favorable economic climate.

That is not an argument I’m having at this exact moment. My point is to show that most of the "excuses" you will hear about Texas’ job statistics are based in nothing more than a hope that Rick Perry had nothing to do with them and not on a sound understanding of the data.

My advice to anti-Perry advocates is this: Give up talking about Texas jobs. Texas is an incredible outlier among the states when it comes to jobs. Not only are they creating them, they’re creating ones with higher wages.

One can argue that Perry had very little to do with the job situation in Texas, but such a person should be probably prepare themselves for the consequences of that line of reasoning. If Rick Perry had nothing to do with creating jobs in Texas, than why does Obama have something to do with creating jobs anywhere? And why would someone advocate any sort of "job creating" policies if policies don’t seem to matter when it comes to the decade long governor of Texas? In short, it seems to me that this line of reasoning, in addition to sounding desperate and partisan, hogties its adherents into a position where they are simultaneously saying that government doesn’t create jobs while arguing for a set of policies where government will create jobs.

Or, to an uncharitable eye, it seem they are saying "Policies create jobs when they are policies I like. They don’t create jobs when they are policies I dislike."

Quite. Perry’s opponents can certainly take issue with the detail but, again, the campaign story is built on a fundamental, undeniable truth: the American people are moving to Texas. Again, that doesn’t mean President Perry would necessarily be as successful as Governor Perry but it does arm him with a powerful narrative that’s easily explained, appealling and unlikely to be demolished by detailed statistical quibbling. 

Texas ain’t utopia but, faults or not, it’s working. Whether that’s relevant to the challenges the next President must wrestle is a different matter. But every time his record is criticised Perry can reply: If that’s all true then why have nearly three quarters of a million Americans moved to Texas in the last four years? A good question even if, again, not every Texas Rose smells sweet or could be transplanted successfully to other parts of the continent.

UPDATE: Via Erica Grieder, check out this Forbes map of internal-migration. Especially Travis County (Austin) and Harris County (Houston).

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