Wednesday, May 16, 2012

What's the Matter with Arrogance?

Last week, someone mentioned a book to me [Full Disclosure: I have not read said book] that has a basic premise of pointing out that people in the "flyover states" are manipulated into voting for Republicans even though it "goes against their interests."

The first problem I have with that is this: Who is to say what's in someone else's interest?  I'm not a social issue voter (I'm about as pro-choice and favorably disposed towards equality for gays as Michael Bloomberg or Bill Weld), but I can respect people that don't agree with those opinions.  And perhaps those people's best "interests" are served in the way they vote.  But never mind that, they can vote based on other specific pieces of legislation, broad-based philosophies, candidates' backgrounds, or the color of their ties.

That's the whole point of a representative democracy.  We can vote however we want.  Voter information levels can run the gamut from policy wonks to those who think there are only nine "Supremes" when we count the backup singers, too.  All the votes count equally, the winner holds the seat, and we can all go back out and vote the bums out in two years if we're so inclined.

So just on a primary, fundamental level, I have a hard time swallowing any school of thought that tells me one way is "right," another is "wrong," and if those silly, uneducated bitter clingers could just realize what's best for 'em, they wouldn't pull the levers the way they do.

On a more specific level, I have another problem with that idea: As someone who is going to be entering the job market in two years, MBA in hand, I am keenly aware that a low unemployment rate at the time of graduation is one of the few things that I can clearly say is "in my interests."  Therefore, I will root for pro-business policies like the recent crowdfunding legislation, I will cringe in fear at things like the Buffett Rule, and I will hope our state's tax policies stay competitive enough that our wealthiest residents don't pack up and leave (how many Massachusetts residents do you know who live more than two hours from another state border?)

Thankfully, Massachusetts is doing phenomenally well by many indicators (and a recent Slate article just pointed that out with a statistical composite).  Lucky for me, our current unemployment rate is 6.5%.  The lower it goes, the better the balance tilts towards prospective employees and away from prospective employers, based on the law of supply and demand.

Let's take a look at the states with the lowest unemployment rates:


Not so shockingly, many of these states are among the ones that the concept book described above might be ridiculing.  Some people may feel their residents are a bunch of country bumpkins who just can't figure out how to vote, but given the employment prospects of those very people, maybe just maybe they're on to something. 

But, if they got their act together and moved to places with fiscal policies more in line with those sort of "interests," New York and California might look appealing.

Except New York (8.5%) ranks 36th among states, and California (11.0%) ranks 48th.

If you're paying attention to Europe right now, the economic implosions happening across the continent are not in anyone's interest, and they're only going to get worse unless someone can step in to be the bad guy who fixes the broken systems that are sending entire economies over Niagara Falls in a barrel.

If you're paying attention to what's happening in California right now, Jerry Brown is trying his best to salvage a system that is facing more unfunded liabilities than it knows what to do with.  Soaking the rich is only good policy until they finally decide to get up and leave.  Regardless of what happens, that's another situation that's going to get a LOT worse before it gets better.

Meanwhile, places like Montana (tied with Kansas at 6.2 percent) and North Dakota (admittedly, flushed with recent natural resource revenue) are running big state budget surpluses.  Yes, surpluses.  If managed wisely, those type of budgets can allow them to make long-term infrastructure and human investments that will help those states prosper for years and years.

Maybe people in those states go to church.  Maybe they own guns.  Maybe they can even name country music singers other than Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney.

Coastal elites can sneer at them for all those things, and are free to do so, but that might it extra awkward when they come knocking years later, hat in hand, looking for some help and advice.  


C R Krieger said...

Ah, another book to consider is Deer Hunting with Jesus:  Dispatches from America's Class War, by Joe Bageant.  A report from Winchester, Virginia.  There is a whole other world out there.  Mr Bageant writes as a "progressive".

Regards  —  Cliff

JoeS said...

Two points - MA unemployment has just been announced to be 6.3%, and the NH is colored by the fact that a good percentage of their workers are employed in MA - just look at routes 3 and 93 for example.

Jon and Kate said...

Agree completely about Thomas Frankian bunk, but the states with the lowest unemployment rates also seem to be many of the least populated. I'm not sure what the relationship is between population and employment, but it seems like to be successful you should move to an emptier state.