Lowry: Perry the Poacher
What you are now hearing across the land is a collective whine. Blue-state Democrats are upset that Texas Gov. Rick Perry dares come and play in their sandboxes, and worse, threatens to "poach" jobs from their states.
The website Politico reports that Perry's attempts to lure jobs to Texas are "infuriating to prominent Democrats around the country." Gov. Jerry Brown of California a state that is Perry's foremost target has dismissed Perry's handiwork in scatological terms. Democrats from another target, Illinois, huff and puff about the temerity of it all. "He better not take our businesses away," Sen. Dick Durbin warned.
He better not or what, exactly? What recourse does Illinois have, except improving its own business environment? Which would mean Rick Perry is good for Texas ... and for Illinois.
Perry is exploiting the genius of our federalist system for all it's worth. In his business-recruitment trips, accompanied by trash-talking ads and Texas-sized braggadocio, he is subjecting other states to the fire of competition. In an ad in Crain's Chicago Business, Perry offered businesses in the state "an escape route to economic freedom ... a route to Texas."
This is exactly how the Founders imagined the interplay among the states working, although in the era prior to the arrival of Texas in the union, they might have had trouble imagining Rick Perry. The George Mason University scholar Michael Greve refers to the system as "competitive" federalism. "This federalism relies on exit and mobility of capital, and of labor as a means of disciplining government," he writes. "Competitive federalism is a terrific prescription for a big, diverse country with a highly mobile citizenry and a national government that responds poorly to democratic demands."
Rick Perry may be boastful, but he has a lot to boast about. Texas had a 6.4 percent unemployment rate in April. When President Barack Obama recently made Austin, Texas, his first stop on a trip touting job creation, Perry welcomed him with an ad noting, accurately, "Over the last 10 years, Texas created 33 percent of the net new jobs nationwide."
Perry's opponents assume that there must be something unfair or wrong about this. Texas, they scoff, is benefiting from an energy boom. Well, states like California and New York also have oil and gas resources, but refuse to exploit them fully for political reasons. Regardless, Texas job growth ranges much more widely than the energy sector. In the past year, according to the Texas Workforce Commission, the category of Mining and Logging, which includes oil and gas, has grown by nearly 17,000 jobs. But Trade, Transportation, and Utilities added 58,000. Professional and Business Services added 62,000. Leisure and Hospitality, 57,000.
Texas also is portrayed as a pit of backwardness. It's not so, as Chuck DeVore of the Texas Public Policy Foundation himself a transplant from California points out. A calculation of poverty rates from the Census Bureau that takes account of cost of living found that California had the highest poverty rate in the country from 2009 through 2011, at 23.5 percent; the adjusted rate for Texas was about 17 percent. He writes that the two states are "remarkably similar in size, diversity and natural resources," but "they differ in their governance."
Texas benefits from low tax rates, a low cost of living, light regulation, checks on abusive lawsuits and its status as a right-to-work state. California has none of the above. Although its unemployment rate has been declining, it is still 9 percent, the fourth-highest in the nation.
"Poaching" jobs sounds pejorative, but it amounts to making it easier for people to do business. The waste hauler Waste Connections Inc. moved from Sacramento, Calif., to a location near Houston. Its CEO told the website The Fiscal Times that it took the company 16 months to design and build a new building in Texas, when the permitting alone would have taken three years in California.
If blue-state Democrats want Rick Perry to stop bothering them, they should quit whining and start learning from his example.
Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.