The former governors in the race are being judged on a misleading metric
Does it matter which of the possible Republican nominees for president presided over the most job creation when running a state government? That metric is sometimes cited as an argument in favor of Texas Gov. Rick Perry. National Review says Gary Johnson scored a job growth rate of 11.6 percent during his tenure in New Mexico and that John Huntsman did next best during his time running Utah. But what if governors actually don't have much impact on how many jobs are created? Or even if they do, would state-level success necessarily translate onto the national stage?
Take Gov. Perry. In a column at The Daily, Reihan Salam says that he deserves partial credit for economic growth in Texas, insofar as tort reform that he supported made the business climate more friendly. But confounding economic variables very much complicate things, Salam insists:
A bigger reason for Texas' success on the jobs front is that the state has a relatively healthy housing market. Texas effectively imposed steep minimum down payment requirements for home buyers in 1998, a policy that helped insulate Texas families from the worst of the housing bust. And while local governments in California and the Northeast tend to impose stringent regulations that limit the supply of housing, Texas has long taken a laissez-faire approach to local land use.
This has given Texas a huge affordability advantage that has attracted a large number of domestic migrants, including a large and growing number of entrepreneurs. This housing-driven affordability advantage is so big that Texas could afford to impose somewhat higher taxes and fees and still offer more bang for the buck than the big coastal cities.
That's one big problem with comparing jobs numbers: Every state has its confounding variables. And it's unlikely that journalists or voters are going to accurately assign credit or blame for them, especially since a useful comparison requires attributing the appropriate credit to everyone. Plus there's a huge time horizon problem. What if the best policy doesn't produce jobs immediately, but does produce them eventually, and in much greater numbers than a shorter term fix? It isn't as if it's uncommon for a politician to inherit the consequences of a predecessor's decision, or to saddle a successor with a problem that is more dire than it seemed when he left office.