Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Much Ado About Texas

Brian Kelsey links to a chorus of bloggers poking holes in Texas economic policy. I don't have a dog in this hunt, but something Matthew Yglesias posted on the subject resonates with me:

If instead of comparing states you compare metropolitan areas, you sort of wonder where this miracle is. Here’s unemployment by metropolitan area. How’s Greater Boston doing? Well, they’re at 8.2 percent and faring better than Texas’ large Dallas and Houston metro areas. Indeed, Houston’s doing worse than Milwaukee, Seattle, Kansas City, and a bunch of other large cities I’ve never seen described as miraculous performers. The top-performing Texas metro area is the rather small Midland, TX which is still in worse shape than Madison or Honolulu or Omaha.

States, for better or for worse, aren’t real economic units. So state-level statistics often represent somewhat meaningless aggregation effects. Massachusetts happens to aggregate Boston (better than any large Texas metro) with a bunch of smaller metros (Worcester, Springfield, etc.) that are doing terribly. But it doesn’t make sense to say that Boston shows liberalism works while Springfield shows that it’s failed; Boston is just a very different kind of place.

Pontificating about state policy is a waste of key strokes. The political geography matters, a great deal. However, talent doesn't move to a state. It relocates to a region, some straddling multiple jurisdictions. I'm interested in what is going on in Dallas, Austin, Houston, and San Antonio. I don't care about Texas.

To expand the criticism, I don't see the value in rural versus urban or Rust Belt against Sun Belt. Such geographic abstractions do more harm than good. We are using an outdated concept of region, something more appropriate for 1910 not 2010.

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