South Carolina governor compares stimulus to Zimbabwe

The man who's rejecting some funding for his state said the stimulus follows the same economic logic used in the troubled African nation.

Published March 12, 2009 5:15PM (EDT)

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford has made no secret of his rather fierce opposition to the stimulus. The governor, whom some observers see as positioning himself for a run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, has made a show of being the first to officially reject some of the the bill funding provided for his state, and he's previously compared the stimulus to Weimar Germany and the grain quotas in Stalin's Soviet Union. On Wednesday, though, he trotted out a new comparison: Zimbabwe.

"What you're doing is buying into the notion that if we just print some more money that we don't have and send it to different states, we'll create jobs," Sanford said. "If that's the case, why isn't Zimbabwe a rich place? [T]hey're printing money they don't have and sending it around to their different -- I don't know the towns in Zimbabwe but that same logic is being applied there with little effect."

It's a particularly interesting country for Sanford to choose for comparison purposes. Zimbabwe is currently ruled by dictator Robert Mugabe, who -- among other sins -- has, over the past decade, instituted a policy of land redistribution, taking farms from whites, often with the use of violence. More directly related to critiques of the stimulus, Zimbabwe is also suffering from an 11 million percent inflation rate.

On Tuesday, Sanford told South Carolina legislators that he wants to use $700 million of the $2.8 billion the stimulus provides the state not for new spending but to pay down debt. Due to a provision in the bill specifically targeted at him, however, it's likely that move will end up being only symbolic -- the Legislature can override him on it.

Together with Republicans in the state Legislature, Sanford has defied mainstream economic wisdom about how to get out of a recession and cut South Carolina's budget by 13 percent since last summer, one of the largest figures in the country, according to the Washington Post. "The cuts have limited state agencies' ability to help the growing numbers of people in need," the Post reports. "The state's Medicaid program, for instance, is reducing mental health counseling, cancer screening and dental coverage."

In the meantime, South Carolina's unemployment has risen sharply: Newly released data shows that the state's unemployment rate shot up to 10.4 percent in January, behind only Michigan's 11.6 percent. In December, it was 8.8 percent.

South Carolina's most prominent Democrat, House Majority Whip James Clyburn, has attacked Sanford for his stance, saying the governor's personal interests are taking precedence over those of state residents. "This is just political posturing aimed toward the next national election,” Clyburn told reporters Wednesday. "He’s got a political agenda that runs contrary to the needs of his constituents."

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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