Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Charlie & The Bullshit Factory

If you’ve hung around Arkansas political Twitter for more than about five minutes over the past few months, you’ve probably seen Rep. Charlie Collins (R-Fayetteville) repeatedly write about turning Arkansas “into a Good Jobs Magnet1.” He uses it that phrase so much, in fact, that–when pressed for space in a Tweet–he will use the initialism “GJM,” confident that everyone knows what he’s talking about.

Thing is, spouting off a cliched, improperly capitalized talking point seems like something Donald Trump would do. And, while Trump rambles like a felonious old coot on Twitter and almost never responds to people, ol’ Charlie will actually reply to commenters. When pressed him on the issue and asked what specific policies he has championed that have turned Arkansas into a “good jobs magnet” or have otherwise brought jobs to Arkansas, he responds with statements like this:

And this:

And, most recently, this:

Long story short, Chuckles isn’t going to point to any specific jobs or industries that have come here or have expanded here thanks to the policies he has pushed. Rather, he is just going to keep telling us to look at broader data as “proof” that his policies are improving Arkansas.

So…ok. Challenge accepted. Let’s look at some data. Hell, let’s start with the categories he listed: total job growth and unemployment rate.

First, total job growth. This is a chart showing the Current Employment Statistics survey (CES) and the U.S. Census’ Current Population Survey (CPS) job-growth numbers for Arkansas from May 2017 through April 2018:

Looks to me like the CPS has that as a downward trend for the entire period and the CES has it as only a very slight overall gain in jobs for that period. (Note: Using the 2017 period as a measuring stick seems particularly relevant, since another of Charlie’s favorite things to do is to retweet the President and try to stick to Trump’s policies as mirrors of Charlie’s ideas of good policies.)

Similarly, while a more limited data set, if we compare Arkansas to all other states for the April 2018 period, we find the Natural State 43rd in job growth under the CES model and 45th under the CPS model.

What about unemployment rate? Charlie also pointed to that as proof. Well, the April 2018 unemployment rate was 3.8%, which is .2% higher than April 2017. That’s not a huge jump, of course, but the underlying data make it more of a problem, as both the labor force and overall employment have been steadily declining since late last year, meaning that the 3.8% unemployment number “suggest[s] a clear slowdown in labor market growth compared to a year ago.”

Collins also mentioned taxes in two of those tweets above, however, so maybe that is where we’ll find some proof for the big impact his policies have had in Arkansas? Let’s check. According to The Tax Foundation’s “2018 State Business Tax Climate Index,” Arkansas ranks…39th out of 51. The underlying data aren’t much better, either, as you can see here:

Maybe that’s just a one-off year, though, right? What if we go back further, say to around the time Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s took office?

Oh. Hmm.

I know! Maybe the problem is that we’re looking at each of Charlie’s data points in isolation. The proof of concept here must be when you put all of these underwhelming numbers together. THAT must be when the magic happens! So let’s take a look at a study published yesterday, ranking “2018’s Best & Worst State Economies“:

That’s decidedly, demonstrably not good. And it tracks closely with a similar study from a week ago, ranking “2018’s Best and Worst States for Jobs,: where Arkansas came in 40th out of 51.

So how can Charlie be so woefully wrong about whether he is turning Arkansas into a “Good Jobs Magnet,” despite a complete lack of proof? Because this isn’t about proof or actual numbers to support the claim for Collins.

On the contrary, it’s a matter of faith. It’s an unwavering belief that, if one prays at the temple of Art Laffer, if one pledges fealty to anti-tax idiots like Grover Norquist, if one simply accepts all of the Republican dogma about economics, then all of the jobs and wealth and riches will flow to the state. And if anyone questions the wisdom or efficacy of those policies, you just dump a bunch of hashtags into a Twitter response and wrap yourself in the warmth and safety that only the truly obtuse have ever known.

The thing is, that dogma–that obeisance to the idea that all taxes are bad and must be cut–is not really about creating jobs, at least not in a macro sense. It is, and always has been about, making the rich much richer while promising the poor that the wealth will trickle down to them eventually. The “creating jobs” lie is just the fancy wrapping paper they wrap around the poop-filled box.

The lack of impact Charlie’s policies have on job creation can be laid bare by looking at Forbes’ annual ranking of best states for jobs, which they’ve done since at least 2006. This year, Arkansas ranks 36th overall, despite ranking 9th in “Business Costs,” which includes “cost of labor, energy and taxes.” The interesting thing, however, is that Arkansas ranked 32nd overall in 2011, despite ranking 14th in business costs. Which means, in broad strokes that, rather than turning Arkansas into a jobs magnet, Collins and his ilk have literally brought the overall ranking relative to other states down four places.

They’ve done this by focusing almost solely on taxes (where the state was already competitive)2 while ignoring the other things that are equally as important to a company who might be looking to locate to a new state. It’s a hard sell, after all, to convince a company to come to a state whose legislature refuses to actually address and improve health care (Arkansas ranks 49th, which makes Collins’ bragging about expansion as a net positive in terms of jobs laughable), education (42nd), infrastructure (46th), and crime (47th).

But trying to tackle those problems requires more than just platitudes about tax cuts and inane catchphrases on Twitter. Those solutions require taking actual measures–many of which might cost money that would require raising taxes to pay for–and being open to answers that do not fit within a Fox News-approved bubble.

It’s much easier to just lie about the successes you’ve brought to Arkansas and scream “Good Jobs Magnet” into the internet void.

  1. Yes, he capitalizes it like that. Why? Pure Trumpian idiocy is my guess.

  2. I literally made this argument in 2010, not because I am prescient, but because it was so obvious to anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of economics.

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