Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Allegheny Institute Nonsense

Political ideology tends to cloud policy analysis. The unabashedly libertarian Allegheny Institute for Public Policy is case and point:

Pittsburgh’s Mayor is constantly citing reports from various magazines and newspapers about how wonderfully well Pittsburgh shows up in highly dubious livability ratings but somehow manages to miss the reports that are not so flattering. Take the latest example. Forbes is out with its list of the ten large metro areas (over a million people) gaining the most population between 2007 and 2008 along with a companion list of the biggest losers.

No surprise. Sun Belt cities continue to dominate the winners with Raleigh, Austin, Charlotte, Phoenix and Dallas making up the top five. On the losing side, the rust belt continues to generate the greatest outflow of people. Pittsburgh ranked eighth among the biggest losers of population. It fared much better than several Ohio cities and Detroit but still posted a decline, continuing a decades long pattern.

These remarkable results show that despite the recession folks still believe the Right to Work states will lead the way in terms of job opportunities in the future. Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan with no Right to Work law and union dominated politics are not viewed nearly as positively by companies or individuals. People and capital prefer freedom, something the unions and liberal politicians refuse to grasp.

This tired narrative is wrong on a number of counts. First and foremost, don't hold the mayor of a city accountable for bad state policy. Casually flipping between geographic units of analysis (i.e. cities and states) is the province of hacks, not think tanks.

Second, migration outflow and population decline are not necessarily synonymous. Typically, you'll find the highest out-migration rates among cities in Right to Work states. On the other hand, out-migration rates in Rust Belt cities tend to be the lowest in the country. Furthermore, there is considerable variation in population growth within states. Something the Allegheny Institute refuses to grasp. Stating unequivocally what you would like the numbers to show doesn't make it true.

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