In Which The Christian Science Monitor Has Problems With Causation

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on March 5, 2011

Consider this story, which posits that if Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker succeeds in his economic and labor reforms, Wisconsin may increasingly resemble the South, which is doing better than much of the country in creating jobs. It’s an interesting theory as far as it goes, and there may well be much to recommend the theory. But the article also warns of a “dark side” if Wisconsin adopts Walker’s reforms.

What is this “dark side”? Well, read on:

That leaves financially strapped states looking around for other solutions, and their gaze may be fastening on what some economists call the South’s “moonlight and magnolias” strategy. Under that economic construct, the focus is on creating a competitive place to locate businesses, so the premium is on investments in benefits for corporations and on keeping wages relatively low. Worker rights, social services, even education take a back seat to “job creators” under this model – which critics denounce as a race to the bottom.

“Members of the modern Republican Party, and the ‘Tea Party movement’ in particular, gravitate naturally toward models of growth that treat public programs and investments as mere obstacles in the path of dynamic corporate ‘job creators,’ ” writes Ed Kilgore, a fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute, in The New Republic this week. “Many look South in admiration.” But “if Wisconsin and other states – not to mention the country as a whole – end up adopting these atavistic economic ideals,” warns Mr. Kilgore, “they will simply begin to resemble the dysfunctional Old South societies that spawned them in the first place.”

So, to recap, if Wisconsin adopts FDR’s ideas regarding collective bargaining for public sector unions, it will resemble the “Old South,” which mind you, is “atavistic.” This argument has more holes in it than Swiss cheese, but I guess that any argument will do for those who oppose Walker’s reforms.

Of course, the very next paragraph undermines the arguments of people like Ed Kilgore:

Others note, though, that people are voting with their feet. Northerners – including African-Americans – have decamped in a massive migration to the South during the past two decades, evidently perceiving that’s where the jobs are going.

“When you talk about folks in New Jersey, Ohio, and Wisconsin, there’s not a lot of optimism about the future right now,” says David Woodard, a political scientist at Clemson University, in South Carolina. “They’re not as optimistic as someone living in Atlanta.”

You’d think that if the South were so “Old,” and so “atavistic,” it wouldn’t be attracting people from other parts of the country, seeking a better, and more secure financial situation. And let’s be clear; many of those people find precisely what they are looking and hoping for:

For many Southerners, the strategy is hardly a race to the bottom. Blacks on average now make more money in the South than they do in the North. Professor Woodard relates the story of a former South Carolina landscaper who used to drive a beat-up Chevy pickup truck but now works at the nonunion BMW plant in Greenville, S.C. He drives a new BMW, and “you couldn’t convince him that he’s worse off,” says Woodard.

Still trying to convince us that there is indeed a “darker side” to all of this, the article goes on to note that “[f]ormer slave states and territories have greater income disparities, receive more in federal subsidies than the tax dollars they send to Washington, and lag behind in educational achievement, especially for the poorest residents. Critics say that’s what happens when economic policies put the ‘job creators’ ahead of consumers of state services and benefits, including education.” But there is no effort whatsoever to argue that any of this is attributable to the state of labor unions in the South (how could there be?), and the very next paragraph explains that the higher share of federal dollars goes to the South because of farm and military subsidies, not because of anything having to do with the way in which labor unions are treated in the South.

The South is not Utopia by any means. Utopia cannot be found in any place; all regions have their share of problems. But there is plenty of economic opportunity in the South that simply cannot be found in many Northern cities, and to the extent that the South faces problems and challenges, the Christian Science Monitor has not been able to show that any of them are caused by the supposed lack of union power in the region.

  • T. K. Tortch

    Oncet upon a time I took a long journey that happened to take me far away from the Democratic Party, and “Progressive” politics in general. The journey took me, over a period of years, from my childhood home in South Carolina to Brooklyn, New York, by way of Washington, D.C. Along the way (I worked in politics) I met many thoughtful Progressive liberal folk who were convinced as a matter of first principals that my home state, and the other Southern states, and especially their White citizens, were essentially atavistic (though they didn’t necessarily use that word). Now I was well aware of the various social and cultural deficiencies of the South, and they in part started me on my journey away from there. But. The attitude grated. And of course, it turned out that the various places I traveled and lived possessed their own social and cultural deficiencies, often quite similar to those in the South!! Anyway, I ended up mixing with a crowd of transplanted Southerners, Ivy Leaguers, graduate students, journalists, musicians, artists, and many readers of the Nation and New York Review of Books (and people who worked or wrote for those magazines). There were some mighty brains among them, and more than a few that I loved dearly. But, I couldn’t help but begin questioning the presumed and unexamined conviction of many liberal Progressives I encountered that their politics (and persons) were more enlightened and, well yes, more moral than that of Southerners in general, and anyone conservative per se. I just didn’t buy it, and however sophisticated, polished, learned or capable many of these people were, I couldn’t be convinced they were essentially wiser than any number of farmers I had known, and definitely weren’t superior in moral perception or judgment; and above all the more politically active liberal Progressives I knew had no business imagining they could better discern what was in any Southerner’s (or anyone’s they did not personally know) best interests, or could more clearly see the best and truest path for anyone outside themselves and maybe their immediate companions. So I began to mistrust the kind of politics that concerned itself on a large scale with managing the finer details of other people’s lives. All a downhill (and southerly) race away from those politics ever since.

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