Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Obesity and Perry's Miracle

Unemployment by state (June 2011)

So let me warm up with a little news and analysis, I know I'm 3 behind so I'm going to get up to speed.

Obesity, and Perry's 'Miracle'

Approximately 23.5 million Americans live in a food desert according to the USDA and reported by The Week. A food desert is defined by a cross-section of two elements: distance to a supermarket (at least 33% live over one mile distant in an urban area, and ten in a rural), and poverty (at least 20 percent in the census defined district). According to The Week “Only 26 percent of the nation's adults now eat three servings of vegetables a day.” To counter this, places like Los Angeles have started using zoning laws to restrict fast food—fresh produce's main competitor. LA put a one year moratorium on fast-food construction in a 32 mile area. “City officials say the results were successful, and have now imposed permanent zoning restrictions on fast-food chains in the poorer, southern part of the city.” According to City Councilwoman Jan Perry, “We have already attracted new sit-down restaurants, full-service grocery stores, and healthy food alternatives.”

Paul Krugman wrote in the NYTimes today that, “The Texas miracle is a myth.” He goes on to outline the ideological problems with Perry's policies and a drastic misreading of the numbers. Mr. Krugman is largely right, the numbers do not support a miracle of any sort in Texas because of small governance. “Texas was spared the worst of the housing crisis, partly because it turns out to have surprisingly strict regulation of mortgage lending.” Or more simply, big government laws regulating an industry. Next, Krugman continues, “the Texas unemployment rate was 8.2 percent [in June]. That was less than unemployment in collapsed-bubble states like California...but it was slightly higher than...New York and significantly higher than...Massachussetts.” Texas is below the national average which is good, but out of stable non-bubble states it doesn't stand out of the pack.

But at least there are jobs, right? Texas has been putting up good employment numbers; which means quality of life must be good. Krugman analyzes this too, “1 in 4 Texans lacks health insurance, the highest proportion in the nation.” In the most basic measurement of quality of life, access to high quality healthcare, a quarter of Texans are unable to easily pay for essential health services. But what about jobs? Lots of jobs right? Sort of, “[Texas] has, for many decades, had much faster population growth than the rest of America...The high rate of population growth translates into above-average job growth...almost 10 percent of Texan workers earn the minimum wage or less, well above the national average...and these low wages give corporations an incentive to move production to the Lone Star State.” The jobs created in Texas are low-wage and low-benefit. These are jobs that are just trying to “keep up with its rising population.”

“What Texas shows is that a state offering cheap labor and...weak regulation [on job markets] can attract jobs from other states.” If you give away enough of conditions for a business to set-up shop then you can steal them from other states. Case in point, Electronic Arts has moved its facilities from California to Texas. A move highlighted by CBS news last week. This is the proverbial race to the bottom in action.

So finally, how does Rick Perry relate to obesity? The short answer is good regional governance. The philosophy of sustainability is simple: create, grow, and sustain businesses and quality of life by working within regional constructs. The major problem with policies like Perry's and the creation of food deserts is a poor philosophy of regional politics. Think of bad regional or state policies as a hungry baby—called Texas. Without a filter to help it distinguish good business from bad, it eats indiscriminately. Texas grows up without restrictions on its eating habits, happily gobbling up all sustenance it can find. At twenty to thirty years old, Texas is asked to run a marathon. There's no way Texas makes it past the first mile. This is how it will be. Southern states have already done this, so have the post-industrial wastelands we call Buffalo, Albany, and Tacoma. The effects are well-known; a period of 'prosperity' followed by economic collapse and widespread poverty. Not surprisingly, these regions also have some of the highest obesity rates and huge food deserts. Regulations are in place to manage our quality of life. They benefit the workers not the CEOs that are already making thousands of times the average wage of their employees.

Is that bad? I can't make it any clearer. Certain policies disguise infrastructural problems that build until the bubble pops. Get ready to watch Texas have a sudden surge of problems: rising obesity, overstretched costs for road maintenance, mounting healthcare costs pushed on the state, and businesses abandoning the state in droves because the state can no longer provide incentives to stay.

And Perry's America is at the core of the problems we see today. Our bubbles have burst and we don't have the patience to implement the long-term plans that will help us fix our ills.