RALEIGH — Left-wing politicians, activists, and ideologues are desperate to stop and reverse North Carolina’s free-market renaissance. They aspire to unseat conservative leaders, invalidate conservative ideas, and repeal conservative reforms.
They will fail. One reason is that they have picked a fight with an adversary they cannot effectively ridicule, insult, or eviscerate. This daunting adversary is Time.
No, not Time the magazine. That’s limp, lame, and leans left, anyway. I mean the time-space continuum itself. It is presenting North Carolina’s Left with two big challenges.
The first is a logical challenge to the leftists’ favorite arguments. Back in 2011, they warned that by controlling state spending and allowing the state sales tax to drop by about $1 billion a year, the new Republican-led General Assembly would hamper North Carolina’s economic recovery by destroying tens of thousands of jobs, particularly in the public sector.
If all you know about economics is what some Keynesian professor or journalist tells you, this argument might sound plausible. But then Time intrudes. Since the implementation of that first GOP-crafted state budget in July 2011, North Carolina employers have added 171,000 net new jobs. Nearly all of them were in the private sector, true. But even state government experienced a slight increase in positions during the period, about 6,000, while local government had a net loss of only about 900 positions (out of 436,000). Economic calamity? Massive government layoffs? Nonsense.
Other measures of economic performance also suggest no deleterious effects from the onset of fiscally conservative governance in Raleigh, and arguably even early signs of economic benefit from the changeover. Since mid-2011, for example, personal income in North Carolina has grown at an average annual rate of 3.7 percent, somewhat higher than the average growth rates of the Southeast and the nation as a whole.
More recently, the Left has claimed that North Carolina’s exit from the federal government’s extended-benefits program for unemployment insurance has brought catastrophe to the state’s labor market, as people lost their benefits and, unable to find a job, simply dropped out of the labor force.
Labor-force participation has, indeed, dropped faster in North Carolina than in the rest of the nation during 2013. But once again, Time intrudes. Extended benefits ended in July 2013. The decline in labor-force participation began in February 2013. The former couldn’t possibly have caused the latter. In fact, since July the rate of decline in North Carolina’s labor force (about 10,000 people a month) has been lower than it was before July (about 13,500 people a month). Furthermore, since July North Carolina has experienced a net gain of about 40,000 jobs and about 22,000 employed people (the two statistics derive from different surveys).
There is no question that North Carolina continues to experience a weak economic recovery by historical standards. The entire country continues to experience a weak economic recovery by historical standards. The more relevant question for evaluating the policy choices of North Carolina politicians is how North Carolina is doing compared to peer states and the national average. While job creation and other trends have been a bit weaker in 2013 than they were in 2012, the state’s economy continues to fare well in regional and national comparisons of economic performance since conservatives took the reins of legislative power in 2011.
Time has not just exposed the Left’s logical fallacies. It also seems poised to dash the Left’s political hopes, which hinge on a massive defeat of conservative politicians in the 2014 midterms. At this moment, such an outcome appears highly doubtful. If current trends continue, Republicans will hold most of the massive gains in legislative and county-commission seats they made in 2010 and 2012. That’s because if current trends continue, the unpopularity of President Barack Obama and his signature health care law will be the dominant factor in the election cycle, while North Carolinians will see their own state’s economy as improving, not deteriorating.
Perhaps the political situation will look very different by November. Only Time will tell, as they say. But so far, its tale has been one of woe for the Left.
John Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation.