Krugman's Muddled Argument Against Texas

Last week NYT columnist and economist Paul Krugman wrote a very popular column pointing to Texas' revenue shortfall and declaring it an example of the failure of conservative government.  I found the whole piece a muddled mess and dismissed it, but you can't believe the notes I've gotten from people requesting a response.

The thing is, I don't really get his point. The bad national economy was going to cut state revenues no matter what. Is he saying we'd be better off if we had a fat government with easy cuts, instead of a lean government with tough cuts?  How much sense does that make?

The nice thing about delaying my response is that others have already made great cases against the column (saving me the work).  Kevin Williams at the National Review is a bit sarcastic for my tastes, but makes several great points - the main ones being:

  • there's no such thing as a shortfall in Texas, since we use zero-based budgeting (i.e. we start from nothing building every budget with no assumptions from prior years), and
  • our unemployment rate, which is better than the national average, is even more impressive when you consider our huge population gains and the jobs we've had to provide just to keep up with it.

Bill Watkins here at New Geography also lays into Krugman's fuzzy thinking:

"People are not as stupid as many Nobel Prize winners might think; they move for opportunity, not just for cheap houses or low-paid work."

Then he comes up with a great new acronym:

"A business moves to or expands in a region based on a whole host of reasons. These include available infrastructure, resource availability, market size and location, labor supply and costs, worker productivity, facilities costs, transportation costs, and other costs. Those other costs include what I call DURT (Delay, Uncertainty, Regulation, and Taxes)."

Conveniently, the Wall Street Journal made the case for Texas' growth and opportunity the next day: - Opinion: The Great Lone Star Migration

Today one out of 12 Americans lives in Texas—the same proportion that lived in New York City in 1930.

...Finally there is Texas. In 1930 there were (rounded off) six million people in the Lone Star State versus 13 million in New York. In 1970 there were 11 million in Texas and 18 million in New York: Each had grown by about five million. But in 2010 there were 25 million in Texas and 19 million in New York.

Back in the 1930-70 period, liberal political scientists hoped and expected that America would become less like Texas and more like New York, with bigger government, higher taxes and more unions. In one important respect—the abolition of legally enforced racial segregation—that has happened. But otherwise Americans have been voting with their feet for the Texas model, with its low tax rates, light regulation and openness to new businesses and enterprises.

Today one out of 12 Americans lives in Texas—the same proportion that lived in New York City in 1930. Metropolitan Dallas and metropolitan Houston, with about six million people each, threaten to overtake our fourth largest metro area, San Francisco Bay (population about seven million), in the next decade.

That doesn't seem to be much of an indictment of Texas' approach to governance...

That's not to say the next budget is going to be easy.  A lot of hard tradeoffs will have to be made.  But it's pretty clear Texas is a very far cry from being a failed state.