The Bluest State
Posted in the Chicago Forum
#1 Jun 13, 2014
Aaron M. Renn
The Bluest State
Decades of liberal policies have made Rhode Island the nation’s basket case.
Blue-state defenders say that progressive policies work. After all, liberal-leaning states boast some of the nation’s wealthiest and best-educated populations. But many are also reeling from problems ranging from high costs of living and widening income inequality to chronic fiscal crises. And leading blue states such as California, Massachusetts, and New York possess unique assets—respectively, favorable climate, educational hubs, fortress industries—that shelter them, at least for a time, from the full economic consequences of their public policies. What happens when you go blue in a more average, workaday place? Rhode Island—a blue state in its purest form—provides an answer.
“Rhode Island is in the midst of an especially grim economic meltdown,” a 2009 New York Times story began,“and no one can pinpoint exactly why.” Five years later, the state continues to suffer from most of the same problems the Times story described: high unemployment, a crippling tax structure, dangerously underfunded state pension systems. But contrary to the Times’s claims, Rhode Island’s predicament is easy to explain. With no special economic advantages, the state has maintained an entitlement mentality inherited from an age of colonial and industrial grandeur. Rhode Island was once one of America’s most prosperous states, and its rate of higher-education attainment remains better than the national average. But the state’s key industries collapsed long ago, and its political leadership has refused to make adjustments to its high-cost, high-regulation governance system.
The result: a state with “the costs of Minnesota and the quality of Mississippi,” as Rob Atkinson, former executive director of the Rhode Island Economic Policy Council, told WPRI-TV. Indeed, Rhode Island is arguably America’s basket case, overlooked only because it is small enough to escape most national scrutiny. Its ruination is a striking corrective to the argument that states can tax, spend, and regulate their way to prosperity.
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