Tag Archives: weather

Economically Free States see 30 Percent Faster Job Growth

In my last post, I mentioned a couple of business climate indices. There is a new paper by Jed Kolko, David Neumark, and Marisol Cuellar Mejia which examines these types of indices in depth. They find that states with high rankings in economic freedom indices tend to have faster job growth, greater wage growth, and greater growth in gross state product.

There are a lot of indexes out there that attempt to rank states in terms of their business climates and the results of their rankings often conflict. As the authors write:

[A]cross all 50 states, every state but one ranks in the top 20 in at least one index, and every state ranks in the bottom half in at least one index.

However, it turns out that when you dig deeper, the indices can be grouped into two general categories and there is actually a lot of consistency within these categories.

Economic Freedom Indices:

The first category examines what the authors call “taxes and costs” and what I might call economic freedom. It includes factors such as the cost of doing business, the size of government, tax rates and tax burden, regulation, litigation, and welfare and transfer payments. The following five indices tend to capture these types of factors:

The economic freedom component of the Freedom in the 50 States Index by Sorens and Ruger would almost certainly fall into this category too, but since the authors focused on indices that have been around for several years, they do not include it.

Productivity and Quality of Life:

The second group of indices tends to measure what the authors call “productivity or quality of life.” These indices include measures of quality of life; equity; employment, earnings and job quality; business incubation; human capital; infrastructure; and technology, knowledge jobs, and digital economy. It appears to me that a number of the indices in this group focus on outcomes (are there a lot of “knowledge jobs in the state”?) while others in this group focus on policy inputs aimed at improving the quality of life (has the government invested in business incubation and human capital?). The indices that tend to fall into this category include:

  • The State New Economy Index by the Progressive Policy Institute, the Information, Technology and Innovation Foundation, and the Kauffman Foundation,
  • The Development Report Card for the States—Performance by the Corporation for Enterprise Development,
  • The Development Report Card for the States—Development Capacity, also by the Corporation for Enterprise Development,
  • The Development Report Card for the States—Business Vitality, also by the Corporation for Enterprise Development, and
  • The State Competitiveness Index by the Beacon Hill Institute.

The distinction isn’t always clear cut and I’d note that the Beacon Hill State Competitiveness Index, for one, also seems to capture a lot of economic freedom-type factors. The authors categorize an eleventh index, the Fiscal Policy Report Card on the Nation’s Governors by the Cato Institute, as falling somewhere between these two broad groups.

The authors examined the degree to which these indices predicted job growth, wages, and Gross State Product (controlling for other factors that might influence economic growth, including weather and historical industry mix). They found that the quality of life indices generally do a poor job of predicting these positive economic outcomes. In contrast, the economic freedom (aka “low taxes and few regulatory costs”) indices are strong predictors of job growth, wages, and GSP. In particular, the authors found “the corporate income tax structure and base matter for wage and GSP growth, though not necessarily for employment growth.” furthermore, the relationship, “does not appear to be driven by the top marginal tax rate, but rather by other factors such as the simplicity of corporate taxation…” They also found that greater welfare and transfer payment spending was associated with slower economic growth (they have reason to dismiss most concerns about reverse causality; but I’ll leave that to the reader to investigate).

The two indices with the best record for predicting economic progress were the Economic Freedom of North America index by Fraser (“the strongest and most robust evidence”) and the State Business Tax Climate by the Tax Foundation. Looking at the Fraser index, they found that moving a state from the 40th to the 10th place in terms of economic freedom “would increase the rate of growth of employment by 0.317 percentage point.” Given that the mean employment growth rate is 1.15 percent, this amounts to about 30 percent faster employment growth.

Lastly, the authors found that “footloose” industries such as manufacturing that are less-tied to the geography of the state tend to be more responsive to the policies captured by these indices.

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Update: I have fixed a broken link to the article.  Thanks to alert readers! 

Freedom in the 50 States

Bryan Caplan likes William Ruger and Jason Sorens’s Freedom in the 50 States index. He writes:

Overall, it’s an impressive set of results.  Given the intranational mobility of labor and capital – and the ability of real estate prices to adjust – I wonder how predictive their measures will be for things like economic growth and migration.  I also suspect that states like New York and California mask the social benefits of freer policies.  Due to their big non-policy perks – focal location for New York, great weather for California – they feel like they can get away with less economic freedom – and they’re not entirely mistaken. 

Read Bryan’s full post here.

Someday I’d like to study the degree to which governments extract locational rents in the way that Bryan hypothesizes. In the meantime, I am working on a project using the Ruger and Sorens index to study a slightly different question. Stay tuned. 

Hurricane Season Begins

Today is the first day of the 2010 hurricane season, which NOAA predicts will be more active than usual, with 14 to 23 named storms. (In fairness, NOAA has been way off the mark in recent years, to the relief of the residents of the Gulf and Atlantic coasts.)

The Mercatus Center’s Gulf Coast Recovery Project has put out over 50 studies since 2005 looking at the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina. Below are links to eight studies that state and local policy makers may find useful today and in the coming months.

  • A Policy Maker’s Guide to Effective Disaster Preparedness and Response. In the years since Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast region of the United States, scholars, policy makers, and concerned citizens have been working to understand what exactly went wrong in the response to the event and how better to prepare for future natural disasters. Post-Katrina New Orleans presents a unique opportunity to study how and how not to undertake the rebuilding of a major population center after such a catastrophe. Proper study of this subject, if conducted objectively and rigorously, will not only save other communities countless dollars but will also save lives.
  • Building a Safe Port in the Storm: Public vs Private Choices in Hurricane Mitigation. This Policy Comment analyzes the connection between hurricane mitigation and insurance. As many people fail to purchase government-subsidized flood and earthquake insurance, some researchers argue that market failure explains the lack of mitigation. But empirical evidence shows that markets do value natural hazards risks, including hurricane mitigation, and thus the case for market failure has been overstated.
  • The Entrepreneur’s Role in Post-Disaster Community Recovery. This Policy Primer recommends that in the aftermath of a disaster, government relax non-disaster regulations in order to allow entrepreneurs, who are in the best position to assess local conditions and needs in the rapidly changing, post-disaster environment, to step in and quickly respond to the community’s needs.
  • The Road Home: Helping Homeowners in the Gulf Post-Katrina. This comment explores Road Home’s policy goals and design, placing them in the context of the destruction wrought by the hurricanes and the role of insurance and government before and after a disaster. It then contrasts Road Home’s goals and design with the policy goals and design of Mississippi’s Homeowner Assistance Program.
  • Disastrous Uncertainty: How Government Disaster Policy Undermines Community Rebound. This Policy Comment looks at the ways in which public policy has had negative unintended consequences on the ability of communities to make informed decisions about sustainable rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina.  Based on fieldwork, the authors explain why social capital and signals generated by market and civil interactions are important to recovery efforts and how policy makers can encourage rather than retard grassroots rebuilding efforts.
  • Making Hurricane Response More Effective: Lessons from the Private Sector and the Coast Guard During Katrina. Many assume that the only viable option for emergency response and recovery from a natural disaster is one that is centrally directed. However, highlighted by the poor response from the federal government and the comparatively effective response from private retailers and the Coast Guard after Hurricane Katrina, this assumption seems to be faulty. Big box retailers such as Wal-Mart were extraordinarily successful in providing help to damaged communities in the days, weeks, and months after the storm. This Policy Comment provides a framework for understanding why private retailers and the Coast Guard mounted an effective response in the Gulf Coast region.
  • Ensuring Disaster: State Insurance Regulation, Coastal Development, and Hurricanes. This policy comment examines how state insurance regulation affects societal vulnerability to hurricanes. States provide insurance for high-risk properties at below market rates primarily through insurance pools. Seven states, including Louisiana and Mississippi, have wind pools, with over 1.8 million policies and a total liability of over $500 billion as of early 2007. Wind pools are financed, in part, through additional charges on other citizens’ premiums throughout the state to cover excess losses from hurricanes. State guaranty funds, which ensure payment of claims of insolvent insurers, also subsidize high-risk properties.

For more information about these studies or to request hard copies, feel free to email me using the link here.

Finding another way to weather unemployment

The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently released its latest unemployment figures. The Atlantic Online notes, it isn’t pretty. The national unemployment rate remains at 10 percent. However, for many states, December brought deeper unemployment. Mercatus Center economist Veronique de Rugy shows how “unstimulated” our economy remains with a mass exodus of 600,000 workers from the economy since December.

It may seem like obvious policy for the federal government to extend unemployment benefits for a record fifth-time. It’s something they’re considering. But, as Emily Washington and I discuss in our recent Mercatus On Policy, expanding the current Unemployment Insurance (UI) program isn’t the best medicine for the economy or for the unemployed. UI has become an poor safety net. At worst the program actually helps to extend unemployment.

Now may be the time to start discussing another approach to helping workers weather recessions: Unemployment Insurance Savings Accounts. Chile did it in 2003. Rather than dedicating employer payroll taxes to a state-administered fund, states should let workers set up individual savings accounts. With contributions from both the employer and the employee, UISA’s are available to individuals when unemployment occurs, or can be converted into savings upon retirement.

Escape from New York (and California, Illinois, NJ, and Michigan)

Mobility is a feature of American life. People move  in search of jobs, new opportunities, or better weather. There is individual mobility and there are migration patterns. The constant flow of migrants shapes our economic topography. Regions rise and fall based on economic fortune.  When large numbers of people move exit,  they may be following opportunity, escaping the lack of it, or fleeing crisis and decline.

That is why this week’s release of this study by Wendell Cox and E.J. McMahon of The Empire Center is so striking. The authors calculate U.S. migration patterns between 2000 and 2008. New York, on net, lost over 1.5 million people. California lost 1.3 million. Illinois lost over half a million. Michigan and New Jersey round out the top five each losing over 400,000 people.

What might explain these en masse shifts? The strongest contender is fiscal policies that compete with a Category Five Hurricane. High taxes and housing costs, regulations and the growth of government at all levels in New York, California, and New Jersey have bankrupted these states not only of their revenues, but of their most valuable asset – their people.

Resurrecting the New Deal in Perry County, Tennessee

While many cities and municipalities are still seeking approval on projects that propose to use federal stimulus money, a Tennessee county has used a different model to attempt to employ as many of its citizens as quickly as possible. The New York Times details the county’s efforts to put stimulus money to work in an area where unemployment levels recently exceeded 25 percent.

Rather than waiting for big projects to be planned and awarded to construction companies, or for tax cuts to trickle through the economy, state officials hit upon a New Deal model of trying to put people directly to work as quickly as possible.

They are using welfare money from the stimulus package to subsidize 300 new jobs across Perry County, with employers ranging from the state Transportation Department to the milkshake place near the high school.

Given the constraints of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Perry County may be maximizing the potential of these federal dollars to lower current unemployment rates.  The Tennessean reports that the immediate effects of this program have been successful:

The centerpiece of an innovative job-creation program has put 300 residents to work temporarily, including 200… who are employed in the private sector, working at the local country club, insurance offices, hardware stores, trucking firms and the Subway sandwich shop.

What sets this program apart from other stimulus-related ones around the nation is that workers’ wages and benefits are paid directly by federal funds. It is the only stimulus initiative in the country like this, at least on this scale, according to federal Health and Human Services officials.

Aside from the local benefits of rapidly spending its ARRA allotment, the Perry County model is likely a better attempt at effective discretionary fiscal policy than has been witnessed in places that have yet to begin spending their stimulus money. A standard critique of discretionary fiscal policy is that is has long lags before taking effect, meaning that changes in taxing or spending in response to changes in the business cycle are likely to exacerbate, rather than smooth peaks and troughs in the business cycle. If it is possible to create spending programs that minimize these lags, Perry County has likely done just that.

As with other programs using stimulus funding, however, seeing success in Perry County’s unemployment reduction relies on a short-term view of economic heath.  The jobs funded by ARRA will likely disappear once these funds run out and public support for job creation wanes.  A local television news station explains:

The jobs are only temporary and will end a year from September. County Mayor John Carroll says the jobs are just a bandage: stopping the bleeding, but not a permanent fix.

Federal spending in places like Perry County has the potential to help people weather the current recession, but it may do more long run harm than good. Many manufacturing jobs that were once located in America are now outsourced to places where they can be executed more cost-effectively, but this trend does not require federal support to artificially create jobs for low-skilled domestic workers.

Instead, for long-term economic health, former manufacturing centers need to allow the private investment to direct their labor pools toward their new comparative advantages.

Rainy Day, Go Away

The West Virginia State Legislature, faced with the prospect of a soon-to-be-bankrupt unemployment compensation fund, is preparing to raise taxes on businesses and workers to cover the funds anticipated expenses.

Opponents of the move would rather tap a portion of the state’s $460 million Rainy Day Fund (RDF) than burden employers in such hard economic times.  But according to Governor Joe Manchin’s spokesman, “he’s very cautious” about accessing the RDF, and “looking further down the road, not just this year.”

Meanwhile, in Syracuse, New York, Mayor Matt Driscoll has elected to hold the line on taxes, while maintaining all city services.  To cover the projected $25 million budget gap, the city will instead utilize a portion of its RDF.

While these two cases are very distinct, they do illustrate some of the budgetary challenges that state and local policy makers face with respect to use of reserve funds. The terms under which a government can tap its RDF vary by law, but generally the idea is that such reserves should only be used in times of “emergency.” Deciding what constitutes an “emergency” is, of course, a very subjective and politically messy calculation. One man’s drizzle is another man’s downpour, and much like the weather, economic conditions can be tough to forecast.

Only time will tell whether or not Gov. Manchin or Mayor Driscoll have made the right decisions, in terms of accessing their respective RDFs.  Is the former being overly cautious, or the latter overzealous? Because the local economic climates of West Virginia and Upstate New York are unique, it’s possible that they’ve both adopted the correct approach. One thing’s for sure – to the extent that setting up an RDF is a prudent budgetary step for state and local governments, politicians and the general public would probably benefit from clearer guidance as to when the money can be appropriately accessed.