History as politics

When you define and explain history you are framing things in such a way as to favor particular political solutions for current problems.  That’s exactly what John Locke Foundaton (an Art Pope thinktank) president, John Hood, has done in an N&O Op-Ed.  His basic argument is that NC isn’t so special and the story that liberals tell and that despite our public investment in higher ed, technology, etc., our per capita economic growth is nothing special compared with our neighbors.  Therefore, it is time to unleash the policies of the present GOP lot in Raleigh.

Nobody knows more about the political history of NC than the N&O’s Rob Christensen and he says Hood is wrong:

Hood’s argument is that North Carolina’s reputation as a leader in the South is overblown, or as he puts it, the idea of North Carolina Exceptionalism is “a fairy tale.”

Hood bases his assertion on statistics showing that North Carolina’s GDP between 1963 and 2010 grew only at the average of the rest of the South, and behind the national average. When adjusted for population, Hood says, North Carolina looks worse.

So Hood’s implicit argument – although he didn’t quite belly up to the bar to say it – is that North Carolina was wasting its money in building one of the nation’s great university systems, one of the best community college systems and one of the most extensive road systems, and in trying to be a leader in the arts.

If you are arguing for fundamental change, you are obligated to make the case that what has gone before is not working.

Even better than Christensen, though, I think Thomas Mills really nails it:

And that’s the problem with John’s analysis. While we may not have significantly exceeded our neighbors’ GDP or per capita income, the benefits were distributed much more evenly. As Irwin notes, “The rubber-meets-road measure of whether the economy is working for the mass of Americans is median real income and related measures of how much money is making its way into their pockets and what they can buy with that money.”

Using those measures, we have consistently and substantially outpaced our neighbors. Our median income has been higher for decades until the economic crash. On almost every quality of life measure, our families have fared better. That’s because of the political choices our leaders have made…

So if the most important measure of prosperity is the rate of economic growth, then we’ve not done substantially better than our Southern neighbors. If the most important measures are the strength of the middle class and health and welfare of our citizens, we’ve done significantly better.

Yep.  I’ll take a great university system and higher quality of life and opportunities for the average citizen over rich people in my state being even richer.  Alas, our current “leaders” don’t see it this way.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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