Thursday, August 18, 2011

Taking down Kevin Williamson

Andrew Sullivan today links to a critique of Paul Krugam's analysis of the so-called "Texas Miracle" in job creation over the past few years. The critique is by Kevin Williamson and appears in the National Review. I won't quote from the article extensively (you can follow the link and read it yourself) but I will offer my own rebuttal of its claims:

1) Cost of living: Krugman specifically acknowledges that Texas has lower cost of living (when noting the lower cost of housing), and that this lowered cost of living plays a factor in attracting both immigrants and businesses (since they can pay lower wages). So why Williamson spends so much time arguing against this straw man is a mystery to me. What is important is the significance of this lower cost of living to the current political debate: Texas' lower cost of living is not something that can be replicated on a national scale, so it can't possibly speak to Perry's attractiveness as a presidential candidate. Krugman sees this. Williamson, for some reason, does not.

2) Health insurance: Williamson dismisses statistics showing that Texas has a distressingly high percentage of uninsured residents by noting that the state has a high proportion of people under age 18. This is a perfectly bizarre defense of Texas' low rates of insurance. For one thing, residents under the age of 18 should be more likely to be insured, since they are generally covered under their parents’ plans. Furthermore, statistics also show that Texas has one of (if not the) highest rate of uninsured children in the nation. It's puzzling, then, that Williamson thinks that demographics somehow excuse the sad state of health insurance rates in Texas.

3) Unemployment: when you track actual job growth against population growth, you see that Texas pretty much follows national trends these past few years, and this statistic by itself refutes the notion that Texas has showed exemplary job growth. Williamson's entire article is premised on the notion that it was job growth spurred immigration into Texas and not vice versa. But the high unemployment rate in Texas belies this thesis, because what this high unemployment rate means is that for Texas to have been an engine of jobs in an otherwise depressed economy, it would have had to be very peculiar engine of jobs. It would have to have been an engine that created jobs that could only be filled by people outside Texas. Think about it: you've got an economy that is supposedly creating thousands of jobs intrinsically (that is, they are not being created as a result of population growth) but these are jobs that cannot be filled by native Texans (who live there, and don't have to deal with the economic burden and inconvenience of selling their homes and moving). Instead, they must be filled by out-of-staters. And even if this (credulity straining) situation proved true it would merely speak to the exceedingly poor state of education in Texas (and don't forget that Perry and the GOP legislature have slashed billions from education in recent budgets, as a way to avoid raising taxes.)

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