Paul Krugman (Reuters/Chip East)

Paul Krugman: California proves the GOP's "extremist ideology ... is nonsense"

The New York Times columnist explains how California's success puts conservative dogma to shame


Elias Isquith
July 25, 2014 5:43PM (UTC)

In his latest column for the New York Times, award-winning economist and best-selling author Paul Krugman argues that California's recent success — and Kansas' ongoing failure — is yet more proof that conservative anti-tax dogma "is nonsense."

After citing Justice Brandeis' famous claim that America's states are laboratories for democracy, Krugman turns to compare and contrast California and Kansas, noting that while the former state has seen economic growth and a successful implementation of Obamacare, the latter has had a stagnant economy and a ballooning deficit.

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Not incidentally, these states decided to take opposite approaches to economic policy, with California embracing "a modestly liberal agenda of higher taxes, spending increases and a rise in the minimum wage" while Kansas "went all-in on supply-side economics, slashing taxes on the affluent" only to see paltry growth and a darkening fiscal picture.

"If tax increases are causing a major flight of jobs from California, you can’t see it in the job numbers," Krugman writes. "Employment is up 3.6 percent in the past 18 months, compared with a national average of 2.8 percent; at this point, California’s share of national employment, which was hit hard by the bursting of the state’s enormous housing bubble, is back to pre-recession levels."

Does Krugman expect the California example to change conservatives' minds? Hardly. "Has there been any soul-searching among the prophets of California doom, asking why they were so wrong?" he asks. "Not that I’m aware of. Instead, I’ve been seeing many attempts to devalue the good news from California by pointing out that the state’s job growth still lags that of Texas, which is true, and claiming that this difference is driven by differential tax rates, which isn’t."

Krugman then explains why Texas and California diverge — and how it's not for the reasons right-wingers think:

For the big difference between the two states, aside from the size of the oil and gas sector, isn’t tax rates. it’s housing prices. Despite the bursting of the bubble, home values in California are still double the national average, while in Texas they’re 30 percent below that average. So a lot more people are moving to Texas even though wages and productivity are lower than they are in California.

And while some of this difference in housing prices reflects geography and population density — Houston is still spreading out, while Los Angeles, hemmed in by mountains, has reached its natural limits — it also reflects California’s highly restrictive land-use policies, mostly imposed by local governments rather than the state. As Harvard’s Edward Glaeser has pointed out, there is some truth to the claim that states like Texas are growing fast thanks to their anti-regulation attitude, “but the usual argument focuses on the wrong regulations.” And taxes aren’t important at all.


Elias Isquith

Elias Isquith is a former Salon staff writer.

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