Texas governor Rick Perry is running for President with the promise of getting America working again. He is also doing a fair amount of tough guy trash-talking. Like bellyaching about our treacherous Fed. But the main thing Governor Perry is running on is Texas’ relative strong economy. An economy made stronger by surging oil prices which are high these days due, not in small part, to the policies espoused by Ben Bernacke, the man that Rick Perry would like to string up––not sure why––ah, yes, treachery). But economist Paul Krugman has his own theories about the Texas economy:
Some of these miracles will involve things that you’re liable to read in the Bible. But if he wins the Republican nomination, his campaign will probably center on a more secular theme: the alleged economic miracle in Texas, which, it’s often asserted, sailed through the Great Recession almost unscathed thanks to conservative economic policies. And Mr. Perry will claim that he can restore prosperity to America by applying the same policies at a national level.
So what you need to know is that the Texas miracle is a myth, and more broadly that Texan experience offers no useful lessons on how to restore national full employment.
It’s true that Texas entered recession a bit later than the rest of America, mainly because the state’s still energy-heavy economy was buoyed by high oil prices through the first half of 2008. Also, Texas was spared the worst of the housing crisis, partly because it turns out to have surprisingly strict regulation of mortgage lending.
Despite all that, however, from mid-2008 onward unemployment soared in Texas, just as it did almost everywhere else.
In June 2011, the Texas unemployment rate was 8.2 percent. That was less than unemployment in collapsed-bubble states like California and Florida, but it was slightly higher than the unemployment rate in New York, and significantly higher than the rate in Massachusetts. By the way, one in four Texans lacks health insurance, the highest proportion in the nation, thanks largely to the state’s small-government approach. Meanwhile, Massachusetts has near-universal coverage thanks to health reform very similar to the “job-killing” Affordable Care Act.
So where does the notion of a Texas miracle come from? Mainly from widespread misunderstanding of the economic effects of population growth.
For this much is true about Texas: It has, for many decades, had much faster population growth than the rest of America — about twice as fast since 1990. Several factors underlie this rapid population growth: a high birth rate, immigration from Mexico, and inward migration of Americans from other states, who are attracted to Texas by its warm weather and low cost of living, low housing costs in particular.
And just to be clear, there’s nothing wrong with a low cost of living. In particular, there’s a good case to be made that zoning policies in many states unnecessarily restrict the supply of housing, and that this is one area where Texas does in fact do something right.
But what does population growth have to do with job growth? Well, the high rate of population growth translates into above-average job growth through a couple of channels. Many of the people moving to Texas — retirees in search of warm winters, middle-class Mexicans in search of a safer life — bring purchasing power that leads to greater local employment. At the same time, the rapid growth in the Texas work force keeps wages low — almost 10 percent of Texan workers earn the minimum wage or less, well above the national average — and these low wages give corporations an incentive to move production to the Lone Star State.
So Texas tends, in good years and bad, to have higher job growth than the rest of America. But it needs lots of new jobs just to keep up with its rising population — and as those unemployment comparisons show, recent employment growth has fallen well short of what’s needed.
If this picture doesn’t look very much like the glowing portrait Texas boosters like to paint, there’s a reason: the glowing portrait is false.
Still, does Texas job growth point the way to faster job growth in the nation as a whole? No.
What Texas shows is that a state offering cheap labor and, less important, weak regulation can attract jobs from other states. I believe that the appropriate response to this insight is “Well, duh.” The point is that arguing from this experience that depressing wages and dismantling regulation in America as a whole would create more jobs — which is, whatever Mr. Perry may say, what Perrynomics amounts to in practice — involves a fallacy of composition: every state can’t lure jobs away from every other state.