Matthew Yglesias: Delay Claims Poorer-than-Average Texas is “Wealthy” Because Texans “Work Hard”: A few bloggers have noted that Tom DeLay went on a strange neo-secessionist binge yesterday on Hardball with Chris Matthews. This segment of the interview in which he lays out his substantive rationale has gotten less attention. But DeLay’s conceit is that Texas is a “wealthy state” because of it’s right-wing business-friendly policies, a situation that he specifically contrasts with the environment in California, New York, and New Jersey which have allegedly impoverished themselves with high taxes and overregulation.
One problem here is that Texas isn’t a wealthy state. Its median household income of $47,548 made it 28th in the country. Below average, in other words. New Jersey is second, California is eighth, and New York is nineteenth. Indeed, of the top ten states in per capita income nine are “blue” states.
The exception is Alaska, whose wealthy is due not to “hard work” on the part of the population or a business-friendly policy environment but to the combination of substantial natural resource wealth and a small population. Texas is like a poor man’s Alaska, with the substantial natural resource wealth but with the wealth spread across a much greater population. Absent oil, Texas would probably look more like its even poorer neighbors Louisiana (46), Oklahoma (44), Arkansas (49), and New Mexico (45). To some extent, I think the relative poverty of the South can really be attributable to the harmful consequences of Dixie-style conservative policies. But beyond that, it’s generally the case that state wealth is highly path-dependent—economic vibrancy attracts high-skilled workers which in turn leads to more economic vibrancy. But however you weigh that balance, the idea that Texas points us forward to a wealth-generating policy environment is absurd.
The conventional line of political argument was always that we are virtuous and hard-working and if we are poor it is because the evil others are manipulating the system to steal from us--and, indeed, that's what Tom Delay is about when he talks about welfare recipients. But there is no argument here that New Jersey and California are rich because they manipulate the system--instead, the idea that there are other states that are richer than Texas is simply something that Tom Delay has never learned.