OPINION: CALIFORNIA IS A FAILED MODEL NO MATTER HOW YOU LOOK AT IT
Vance Ginn and Elliott Raia | Director and Research Associate, Center for Economic Prosperity
When you have to begin an argument with “depending on how you look at it,” you’re not arguing from a strong position. Yet such has become the answer to the question of, “Is California a good role model?” posed recently in The New York Times.
Even its defenders say California’s prosperity is relative. The good news is that those seeking more concrete progress need only to look to the state that inspired the lone star in the upper-left corner of the Golden State’s flag: Texas.
While the Texas Model of limited government needs improving, it has already proven to be a more sustainable catalyst for job creation and economic prosperity than in California.
Although the idea of limited government may be foreign to many Californians, the Texas Model embraces the principle of reengaging institutions such as family, community, and free markets — institutions that are often undermined by an over-burdensome state.
This is not to say the government has no place in Texas; it does. Nor is this to say that those who have fallen through the cracks don’t deserve help in their times of need; they do.
Rather, the model revives the notion that government’s primary responsibility is to preserve the liberties of families and individuals, instead of attempting to supplant them. In the case of Texas, this also means allowing employers to operate with freedom and without onerous regulation.
The outcome of Texas’ limited government approach is empirically clear. In creating jobs, no one messes with Texas as one in four jobs added nationwide were created in the Lone Star State in the last decade since the Great Recession.
But it’s an even longer period of prosperity. Consider that the average unemployment (U3) rate since 2000 was 5.8 percent in Texas compared with 7.7 percent in California and 6.4 percent nationwide.
Perhaps more telling of the complete picture is the average underutilization(U6) rate, which includes the unemployed, underemployed, and discouraged workers. Given the data available since 2003, Texas averaged 10.5 percent while California averaged 14.3 percent and the United States averaged 11.6 percent.
And poverty is lower in Texas. The Census Bureau’s supplemental poverty index that adjusts for regional costs of living differences and government transfer payments places California’s 19 percent poverty rate the highest nationwide whereas Texas’ rate of 14.7 percent is near the U.S. average of 14.1 percent.
With a relatively light tax burden on employers in Texas compared with California, Texas’ employers have the freedom to innovate and grow. Although the current level of taxation is a stark departure from West Coast philosophy, Texans already see where improvement can be made as efforts to corral skyrocketing property taxes are underway to maintain their economic canter.
While taxes play a role in overall government intrusion, burdensome regulations do, too. The Texas Model, while still not free of all unnecessary regulation and corporate welfare, places more faith and decision-making in markets, where individuals — not politicians — decide the best way to satisfy their desires.
Consider the energy industry in Texas.
While the state has yet to completely eliminate its wind subsidies, it has, in general, taken a more moderated position on industry regulation than the California model. Instead of coercing consumers towards a source of energy favored by bureaucrats and politicians, Texas strengthens its power generation, reliability and cost efficiency by allowing consumers to access a wide energy portfolio.
As a result, Texans pay half the price for their electricity than their Californian counterparts, while also not having to contend with potential rolling blackouts whenever the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow.
While energy is just one example, the California Model’s policies highlight why the state has nearly 20 percent of its population in poverty. No matter how well-intentioned, when government entangles itself in the lives of individuals and tries to supersede other institutions that may be more effective, tribulation soon follows.
Will the nation follow California down a road to serfdom, or, more recently, follow Texas down a road to liberty? That question remains undecided.
But if the mass migration of individuals and businesses out of California and into Texas is any indication, the trend is clear that institutions matter. When institutions in civil society are strengthened by limiting government, people prosper.
Vance Ginn, Ph.D., is director of the Center for Economic Prosperity and senior economist. Elliott Raia is a research associate. Both work at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Read the Foundation’s latest report for more.
Vance Ginn, Ph.D.