Can Rhode Island Be the Exception to Foolish Consistency?
An interesting juxtaposition.
Reading around the Internet, yesterday, I came across Ed Morrissey’s observation that all ten states that lost seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are majority Democrat states:
Michael Barone’s analysis probably comes closest to the truth: low-tax states attract larger populations, while high-tax, high-regulatory states tend to lose people. That also works in the GOP’s favor, and explains why it resulted in such a resounding win in these midterms.
Elsewhere, Dick Morris echoes the analysis:
High taxes kill states. There can be no better evidence than the 2010 Census. The states that lost House seats — because they’re shrinking, relative to the nation — had taxes 27 percent higher than the ones that gained seats.
Of the seven states that don’t have a personal income tax, four (Texas, Florida, Nevada and Washington) account for eight of the 12 seats apportioned to the fastest-growing states.
New York and Ohio lost two more seats. Other losers — down one each — are Massachusetts, Missouri, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Louisiana and Iowa. What do they all have in common? High taxes.
But then, when one turns to local analysis, the lede of a Scott MacKay commentary on WRNI reads as follows:
Rhode Island’s business and political leaders constantly focus on the state’s high taxes as a roadblock to economic development. WRNI political analyst Scott MacKay reminds us that our state has an even bigger barrier to creating good jobs.
The “bigger barrier,” according to MacKay’s assessment, is the inadequately educated workforce, which he blames not on “the teachers, the schools and the government,” but on “the culture of a blue-collar state.” Before taking up that analysis, let’s acknowledge that the two explanations are not mutually exclusive. The same society that tunes its priorities on organized labor and welfare, and tolerates Rhode Island’s brand of political corruption, might be predicted also to place relatively little priority on actual educational achievement. MacKay declares those priorities not to be a factor, but he offers no evidence or argument as substantiation.
Instead, he offers this as the relevant evidence that the problem isn’t the people who run and teach Rhode Island, but the people who live here:
The blue-collar manufacturing jobs have left but the attitudes of that era live on among too many native Rhode Islanders. The percentage of native-born Rhode Island adults with at least a bachelor’s degree is only 25 percent, while 50 percent of Rhode Island residents born in other states have at least a bachelor’s. What this means is that transplants are moving here to take jobs Rhode Islanders are not qualified for.
Unfortunately, I have to repeat my lament that I wish I had the time to research the statistics, but it’s at least plausible to suggest that MacKay’s numbers, wherever he gets them, don’t really have the meaning that he attributes to them. Even if Rhode Islanders set a higher priority on educating themselves, one might expect three-quarters of those raised here to wind up elsewhere — having pursued higher education out of state and looked for work elsewhere. The same is true in reverse: No doubt, a high percentage of “transplants” to Rhode Island arrived here via the state’s colleges and universities and remained. And some of them (me included) took what work the state could provide, regardless of its relation to their degrees.
It won’t surprise anybody that my suggestion is just about the opposite of MacKay’s. I say blame “the teachers, the schools and the government.” Force the first two to reform and the last to get out of the way so that both native Rhode Islanders and immigrants to the state can pursue excellence and create the jobs that will attract RI-born graduates back. The producers will strive to raise or bring the necessary workforce here for the same reason that we all tolerate the burdensome governance in the first place: Rhode Island is a desirable place to live.
Arguably, the initial effect will be a boom in salary levels, as employers compete for workers. A longer-term effect will be a greater emphasis in that ol’ blue-collar culture on the education and training that will procure the higher pay. The first step in changing the color of the state’s collar is to begin governing with an emphasis on personal responsibility, risk, and achievement, which points the finger at precisely the parties that MacKay wishes to exculpate.