- High oil prices mean high living in Texas. The state is no longer as dominated by the energy sector as it was before the collapse in the 1980s, but it's still got a lot of energy firms, and skilled energy workers. Unless Rick Perry has been sneaking out at night to sabotage Iraqi oil pipelines, or sell automobiles and diesel generators to Chinese families, he can't really take credit for this.
- The state's housing sector didn't boom or bust along with the rest of the country's. There have been a lot of posts over the past few days attributing this to a peculiar quirk of Texas mortgage law: unlike the rest of the country, Texans essentially cannot do cash-out refinancings for more than 80% of the value of the home. The law, enacted in the wake of the 1980s oil bust and the S&L crisis, undoubtedly helped keep things sane, but it's not necessarily the whole story. Nearby Oklahoma City also largely escaped the housing bubble, so this may be more of a regional story than a regulatory story. But either way, Rick Perry didn't personally pass Texan mortgage regulations, and he did not choose to locate Texas next to Oklahoma.
- The governor of Texas isn't that powerful. In general, Texas has a weak state government, and my understanding is that the power of the executive is further diluted because powers that are normally concentrated in the office of the governor are actually spread out over a handful of elected officials. So even if awesome policy was responsible for how well Texas is doing, you couldn't give all the credit to Perry.
- No governor is really that powerful. Economic growth is complicated. Sure, tax and regulatory policy help--and you'll be unsurprised to learn that I think Texas has about the right take on these things. But low taxes and a light regulatory touch do not, by themselves, produce economic growth. (Witness Texas in the 1980s.) And even if it were that simple, the governor of a state is not Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the USS Enterprise--he does not simply point his hand at his underlings and say "Make it so!" Institutional inertia is a force more powerful than even the steely will of your favorite politician. A governor can make a difference, even a sizable one, at the margins. But he cannot single-handedly turn a state government around, much less the rest of the state.
A filmmaker returns to his hometown to profile the patriarch of a family farm