Thursday, April 21, 2011

American Exceptionalism?

American Exceptionalism is a phrase which gets batted around in American politics with astounding regularity. It reflects the notion that America as a nation, is subject to a unique set of circumstances. It is not enough to be successful. One’s success needs to be promoted and hopefully duplicated with a missionary zeal. In light of this Wisconsin, middle of the road in both population and industry is often forgotten and ignored.

Since World War II California has served as the model for a successful American state. California had many natural advantages, a sunny climate, fertile soil, and abundance of natural resources. Its economy boomed, as it became a global leader in aerospace, electronics, biotech, and media. California’s population swelled enormously, and so did its political influence. It is no accident that California gave us the presidencies of both Reagan and Nixon. But for most observers California’s glory days appear to be over. California is now faced with high unemployment, crippling debt, and political gridlock. California’s debt has tripled in recent years while its state deficit is at a jaw dropping 26 billion dollars. In light of this, many commentators have suggested that another state take California’s place.

While California has spent the last decade “languishing”, Texas has been thriving. For the last decade, Texas was the fifth fastest growing state. Like California’s growth in years gone by, this is mostly due to its booming economy. In spite of the recession, Texas has led the nation in job growth. Texas is the global leader in oil services, posses a vast agricultural sector, a thriving high tech industry, and a healthy manufacturing base. Texas now has more fortune 500 companies than any other state. Texas even avoided the real-estate bubble which devastated the sunbelt. This growth has been aided by cheap land, low taxes, and nearly non-existent regulation. Texas, long the laboratory of conservative social and economic policy, has been trumpeted by conservatives as the model for future American growth. The problem is, Texas is quietly facing one of the worst budget crises in the United States.

Texas is presently facing a 25 billion dollar budget shortfall, among the largest in the country. The size of this deficit is even worse when one considers the royalties coming in from record high oil prices. Yet ever the bastion of conservative thought, Texas is planning on fixing its shortfall with severe budget cuts. The Texas house has passed a budget containing 23 billion dollars worth of spending cuts. Out of which 8 billion dollars will be cut from education and 4 billion dollars for Medicaid resulting in a nearly 13% cut in government spending.

These cuts would disproportionately affect Texas’s most vulnerable citizens. However, bearing in mind that Texas is the laboratory of conservative policy, Texas has long neglected its citizens social well being. Texas is already 37th in the nation for education spending, 41st in per pupil expenditures, 45th in high school completion, and 47th in SAT scores. Concerning healthcare, Texas is ranked 46th in healthcare per capita, being 44th in the nation for physicians, 45th in the nation for drug and alcohol abuse, and having the lowest health insurance rate in the nation. Environmentally, Texas’s stats are just as dire, leading the nation in toxic emissions, water pollution, and hazardous waste spills. So Texas, already among the worst in the nation for matters of human well-being, is prepared to gut social spending rather than raise taxes.

While Wisconsin is facing a budget shortfall, it is no where comparable to that of Texas or California. It’s a smaller state, it has millions fewer people, and its economy is significantly smaller. Nevertheless, Wisconsin is still competing economically with both states. Because of this it’s foolish for us to imitate either of them. Wisconsin’s biggest asset is its citizens, namely our well-educated and skilled workforce. Because of this, Walker’s cuts are doubly foolish. Walker is attempting to balance Wisconsin’s budget primarily through cuts to our educational and healthcare systems. In doing so, he is knowingly sacrificing our states comparative advantage. This is not exceptionalism, this is regression. Wisconsin should not be joining Texas in its race to the bottom, rather it should toward its own history of progressive action and reform.

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