Tag: Texas

Trade Problems May Not Always Call for Trade Answers

The federal system of government in the United States has the invaluable consequence of enabling policy experimentation.  If a state legislature is considering adopting a particular policy, it can often look at the experiences of other states that have tried that policy before.  A recent study from the Milken Institute in California tries to take advantage of such potential comparisons to offer ways that California could increase its dwindling share of U.S. exports.  It is a valiant effort, but California’s decline is not the consequence of inadequate trade policy and no amount of export promotion is going to fix it.

The study begins by comparing California’s decline in export share to the dramatic rise in cross-border trade originating from Texas, the nation’s leader in goods exports. After using Texas’s success as an example of how California is lagging behind, the study decides not to use Texas as a model for reform and instead focuses on other states that have used export promotion (subsidy) agencies as case studies for how California can improve its bureaucracy to reverse the current trend.

If the success of Texas is what California should seek, then why not look at Texas as a model for reform? The study says that Texas is “unique” because it 1) has no export promotion agency, 2) has a low cost of doing business, and 3) has benefited from increased trade with the growing economy of Mexico by virtue of NAFTA-enabled integration. These differences seem to point to clear policy choices: don’t worry about export promotion (easy), improve your state’s business environment, and be close to Mexico (done!).

If it becomes more business-friendly, your state will have more business, export-oriented business included.  Since we’re looking at Texas as a model, may I suggest improving the business environment by lowering taxes and reducing regulation.

Now, I realize that the Overton Window for politically feasible reform proposals in California may not include lowering the cost of doing business. It makes a lot of sense for the authors of the study to point out the root causes of different outcomes in Texas and California but still seek a different solution more palatable to Californian sensibilities. I think their specific proposals for enhancing the capacity and quality of the export promotion process are insightful and well-supported.

There is a larger lesson in all of this for national economic policy. Increasing exports through the National Export Initiative has been a major goal of the Obama Administration’s economic recovery plan, and subsidizing loans through the Export-Import Bank has been a primary tool in that endeavor. But the people of the United States don’t need more bureaucracy to engage in more trade. They need policies that remove artificial barriers and decrease the cost of doing business—international and otherwise.

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Rick Perry, Arne Duncan, and Michael Jackson

To my astonishment, Arne Duncan went after Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry yesterday on the grounds that Perry hasn’t done enough to improve the schools under his jurisdiction. According to Bloomberg News, Duncan said public schools have “really struggled” under Perry and that “Far too few of [the state’s] high school graduates are actually prepared to go on to college.”

I was never a huge Michael Jackson fan, but for some reason his “Man in the Mirror” track just popped into my head as I read this. You see, once upon a time, Arne Duncan was “CEO” of the Chicago Public Schools. During and for some time after his tenure, he was celebrated as having presided over “The Chicago Miracle,” in which local students’ test results had improved dramatically. That fact turns out to have been fake, but accurate. The state test results did improve, but not because students had learned more; they appear to have improved because the tests were dumbed-down.

When this charge was first leveled, I decided to look into it myself, and found that it was indeed justified. There was no “Chicago Miracle.” Arne Duncan ascended to the throne of U.S. secretary of education, at least in part, on a myth. The academic achievement of the children under his care stagnated at or slightly below the level of students in other large central cities during his time at the helm. Seems an opportune occasion for someone to “start with the man in the mirror, asking him to change his ways.”

Texas Court Rules For Eminent-Domain Critic

Good news from Texas, where a state appeals court has handed a major win to investigative journalist Carla Main, whose book Bulldozed: ‘Kelo,’ Eminent Domain, and the American Lust for Land took a critical look at the seizure of private land under eminent domain laws for purposes of urban redevelopment. Dallas developer H. Walker Royall didn’t like what Main wrote about his involvement in a Freeport, Texas marina project and proceeded to sue her, publisher Encounter Books (which I should note is also my own publisher on Schools for Misrule), and even liberty-minded law professor Richard Epstein over a dust jacket blurb Epstein had given for the book. (Earlier coverage of the suit here and here.)

A trial court had declined to dismiss Royall’s claims on summary judgment, but yesterday Judge Elizabeth Lang-Miers reversed in substantial part, ruling that Royall had failed to make the requisite showing that key passages in Bulldozed had in fact defamed him. The case is not yet over, but Institute for Justice senior attorney Dana Berliner, who argued for the defense, is understandably jubilant: “Walker Royall has failed in his attempt to use this frivolous defamation lawsuit as a weapon to silence his critics,” she said. Moreover, outrage at Royall’s suit contributed to Texas’s enactment this summer (joining 26 other states) of strong “anti-SLAPP” legislation aimed at curbing lawsuits intimidating speech. You can read the opinion here, and early coverage at Gideon Kanner’s blog, the Dallas Observer and D Magazine.

Trade Helps Explain Texas-Sized Job Growth

As its governor, Rick Perry, weighs a run for the White House, Texas has drawn attention for its healthy job growth. Since the recession ended in June 2009, Texas has accounted for half of the net new jobs added to the U.S. economy, according to the lead story in this morning’s USA Today. That’s quite a record for one lone state.

We’ll leave it to others for now to argue over how much credit Gov. Perry can claim. Some credit surely goes to high oil prices, fueling job growth in a sector important to the Texas economy. Another reason for its relatively strong job growth is a friendly business climate, including no state income tax and relatively light regulations. And for those who scapegoat trade for the nation’s persistently high unemployment rate, consider that Texas is the nation’s number one trading state. As the USA Today story notes:

Overseas shipments by Texas’ strong computer, electronics, petrochemical and other industries rose 21% last year, compared with 15% for the nation, according to the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank. The state also benefits from its proximity to Latin American countries that are big importers of U.S. goods … The surge creates jobs for Texas manufacturers and ports.

As I can attest from recent speaking engagements in San Antonio and Laredo, Texans have embraced their state’s position as the nation’s leading gateway for trade with NAFTA-partner Mexico and the rest of Latin America.

While politicians and union bosses from other states grumble about allegedly unfair trade, the latest trade and job numbers show that the people of Texas are making the most of the opportunities created by our more open economy.

 

Actually, Texans Save $600 Million a Year

A Texas tax official estimates in this story that Texas loses an estimated $600 million in Internet sales taxes every year. Its part of a long-running debate about whether state governments should be able to collect taxes from out-of-state retailers who send goods into their jurisdictions.

What happens with the $600 million depends on what you mean by “Texas.” If you mean the government of the state of Texas in Austin, why, yes, the government appears not to collect that amount, which it wants to. If by “Texas” you mean the people who live, work, and raise their families throughout the state–Texans–they actually save $600 million a year. They get to do what they want with it. After all, it’s their money.

The Texas tax collector is complaining because the last thing state taxing agents want to do is collect money in the form of use taxes, which means something like going door to door to collect money from voters based on what they bought from out of state. Revenuers intensely prefer to hide the process, collecting their residents’ money from out-of-state companies.

Amazon.com is Texas’ target–it’s the great white whale for tax-hungry jurisdictions nationwide. With no retail outlets and few offices or fulfillment centers around the country, it’s not subject to tax jurisdiction in lots of places that would like to tap it for revenue. Having a fulfillment center in Texas may make Amazon liable for $600 million of its customers’ money, so it’s doing the sensible thing: getting out.

And thank heavens it can! Amazon is a cog in the extremely virtuous process of tax competition. Its ability to move operations means that it can escape states with burdensome taxes and tax collections oblibations, like Texas. Tax competition among states puts downward pressure on taxes, which in turn puts upward pressure on the wealth and well-being of state residents.

The pro-tax folks have been working for years to eliminate tax competition. The “Streamlined Sales Tax Project” continues work it began in 2000 to pave the way for nationwide sales taxation. “Streamlining” sounds so good, doesn’t it? But the result would be uniform–and uniformly high–sales taxes that every state might impose on every retailer that sends goods across state lines.

The Web site of the pro-tax coalition sounds good, too: the “Alliance for Main Street Fairness,” at the URL standwithmainstreet.com. Who wouldn’t want to “stand with Main Street”? Lovers of limited government, for one.

“Fairness” here means uniform high sales taxes and interstate tax collection obligations. The site doesn’t say who’s behind it, but the campaign to impose taxes on Amazon and other remote sellers is almost certainly a project of big national chain retailers. Rather than fight to lower taxes nationwide, they think they should just saddle their online competitors with tax collection obligations.

As long as the Streamlined Sales Tax Project continues to fail, tax competition in this area survives, and retailers like Amazon can provide lower costs to all of us–including that $600 million in savings enjoyed by Texans each year.

Too Quiet on the Texas Front?

Over at Matt Yglesias’ blog, Ali Frick wants to know why she hasn’t detected any “conservative outrage” over the great Texas textbook tangle. Strangely, though, she only critiques Cato by name. That’s odd because (a) Cato is a libertarian organization, not conservative, and (b) there are many other libertarian – as well as truly conservative – think tanks out there.

Unfortunately, those things are just the beginning of the post’s odd twists.

Before I get into the weirdness, though, let me cop to the charge of relative silence. I’ve been meaning to hit the Texas situation harder, but have been dealing with a much greater education threat to the country – truly national curriculum standards – as well as other big issues.

Which reminds me: If Ms. Frick is very concerned about having one set of standards imposed on the entire nation, I invite her – and anyone else – to a major debate we’ll be having at Cato on the same day that proposed national standards are expected to be released to the public. Register here to attend!

So anyway, I have been relatively quiet on Texas. But not completely silent, and Ms. Frick could easily have found things that both I and others have written on the Lone Star social studies shootout just by searching for “Texas” and ”social studies” on Cato’s website. That search brings up this, and this, and this. Oh, and we sent this statement to media outlets, resulting in lots of radio interviews on the subject. How Ms. Frick missed all of these things, I do not know.

What is especially strange about Ms. Frick’s post, though, is not that she called Cato conservative (that’s all too common), or didn’t actually seem to check if we’d done anything on this. What is especially strange – or maybe just confused – is that she thinks people at Cato should be very upset about the Texas situation because the content of textbooks for Texas is often the content other states get stuck with.

For one thing, that Texas essentially dictates content for everyone else is an increasingly debatable point. More important for Frick’s piece, though, is that she asserts that somehow Texas being a big, centralized market is clearly something that creation of the U.S. Senate was supposed to mitigate, as well as the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause:

[I]t’s hard for me to think of really anything so antithetical to the Founding principles than for one state to mandate radical changes that all the other states are forced to swallow. Indeed, avoiding such an outcome was in large part the purpose of the Senate, not to mention the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution — really, the scrapping of the Articles of Confederation altogether.

What?

First off, if you read Federalist no. 62, there is just no way to interpret it as saying that the Senate will represent states so that an individual state’s policies won’t adversely affect other states. It simply discusses the need to give representation to both states and people in the national government of the new republic.

But that isn’t Frick’s biggest stretch. That is reserved for her application of the Supremacy Clause, which reads:

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

Once again, this says absolutely nothing about whether it is constitutional for a big state to adopt textbooks even if it affects the textbook choices of smaller states. The clause is entirely about the supremacy of federal laws – when made to exert the specific, enumerated powers given to the federal government – over state laws. It says diddly about state actions that simply have some impact on other states, especially when those actions have nothing to do with federal powers.

All that said, libertarians do have good reason to be concerned about what has transpired in Texas, as it illustrates brilliantly the conflict, politicization, and academic dangers inherent to government schooling. But that is an issue about which many of us at Cato have dealt at great length.  I invite Ms. Frick to read it all.

The Good Side of Bad News in Europe

What does the Greco-Euro currency/debt crisis mean for the U.S. economy?

Nearly everyone except the uniquely wise economist John Cochrane assumes very bad “contagion” effects –on U.S. banks, exports and particularly U.S. manufacturing.

This echoes identical anxieties while the world went through a far more dramatic Asian currency crisis after  July 1997,  and a Russian debt crisis the following May.

The most widely ignored effect of that crisis, however, was to depress foreign demand for oil, and thus slash oil prices to U.S. buyers from $25 a barrel in early 1997 to $11 by the end of 1998.

Oil is a major input into the manufacturing process (e.g., chemicals and plastics), and a major cost of distribution (trucks, trains and airplanes).  It is also a major determinant of the cost of all energy sources used in making other goods such as aluminum and paper.   When marginal costs go down, it becomes profitable to expand production.

At the height of the Asian/Russian crises, the table below shows that U.S. manufacturing output  rose by more than 10 percent. It’s an ill wind that doesn’t blow somebody some good.

Looking at the same phenomenon from the other side, every recession but one (1960) was preceded by a big increase in the price of oil. For oil importers like the U.S., cheaper oil is definitely better.

During the last big foreign currency/debt crisis, the real growth of U.S. Gross Domestic Purchases (the home-grown portion of GDP) jumped by 4.7% in 1997 and 5.5% in 1998.  Yet the Fed cut interest rates three times in October and November of 1998 because of what was happening in other countries.

The table  show what happened to the price of oil and to U.S. manufacturing from June 1997 to December 1998. The middle column is the price of a barrel of West Texas crude, and the column to the right is the U.S. industrial production index for the manufacturing sector.

1997-06    19.17    87.80
1997-07    19.63    88.12
1997-08    19.93    89.69
1997-09    19.79    90.45
1997-10    21.26    90.98
1997-11    20.17    92.05
1997-12    18.32    92.52
1998-01    16.71    93.36
1998-02    16.06    93.31
1998-03    15.02    93.13
1998-04    15.44    93.68
1998-05    14.86    94.25
1998-06    13.66    93.53
1998-07    14.08    92.96
1998-08    13.36    95.40
1998-09    14.95    95.11
1998-10    14.39    95.96
1998-11    12.85    96.08
1998-12    11.28    96.63

In recent weeks, as the debt and currency problems in Euroland hit the front page, the price of crude oil fell by about 20 percent.

Once again, as in 1997-98, everyone may be watching the wrong ball in the wrong court.