Arizona/South Dakota billionaire T. Denny Sanford is using $25 million of his usury-gotten fortune to keep South Dakota state government from coming up with more of its own money to address workforce development. How very nice.

I suppose it's impolite to pester an elderly benefactor about the literal content of statements made in a fit of boosterism. But permit me to look at a few words from the gift horse's mouth, uttered yesterday at the rollout of the new Build Dakota vo-tech scholarship plan:

"I'm proud of everything that South Dakota stands for," Sanford said. "Productivity, a great health system and South Dakota Works. And it works in a good way. Not only do people work harder and have a better work ethic, but the system works. We've got a system unequal to anything else I've seen. We've got to get the people here to do it."

..."Go forward, South Dakota; let's get it done," Sanford said. "I know you will because everything we do here works" [Jodi Schwan, "Sanford, State Pledge $50 Million for Workforce Needs," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.12.17].

Everything we do here works... that statement makes it hard to explain why we need this scholarship program in the first place. What happened to the New South Dakotans program that was Governor Daugaard's first big swing at workforce recruitment? Oh yeah: it didn't work. And if everything we have here works, why do we have a teacher shortage? And a road-repair shortage?

But we South Dakotans still work harder than everyone else, right? We have a better work ethic, right?

  1. A Bureau of Labor Statistics report from 2010 says that in 2008, South Dakota ranked 47th for average weekly hours and 51st for average hourly earnings in private industry.
  2. From 1977 to 2000, 25 states had higher annual labor-productivity growth than South Dakota. Our labor-productivity growth improved from 2000 to 2004, thanks to our riding out the 2001 recession a little better than the rest of the country, but 13 states still beat us on that metric in that period.
  3. This is a crude figure, but if you divide our gross state product by our population in 2013, you find that South Dakota ranks 22nd for economic output per person (see full chart below). However hard they are working, folks in 21 other states are generating more wealth per person than South Dakotans. The only neighboring state producing less wealth per person is Montana, which ranks 42nd in GSP per capita.
  4. Working harder isn't exactly a sign of progress. How hard do you think Mr. Sanford is working right now? American workers put in more hours than their European counterparts but report less life satisfaction.

I suppose the state's official position should be that Denny Sanford can say the sky is blue and Elvis is President, as long as he keeps the money coming. Denny Sanford can build our hospitals and schools and workforce... but let's not let him fabricate our facts.

State 2013 GSP $ Millions Population (2013) GSP/pop GSP/pop rank
Alabama 180,727 4,833,722 $37,388.79 47
Alaska 51,542 735,132 $70,112.58 2
Arizona 261,924 6,626,624 $39,526.01 41
Arkansas 115,745 2,959,373 $39,111.33 43
California 2,050,693 38,332,521 $53,497.47 13
Colorado 273,721 5,268,367 $51,955.57 18
Connecticut 233,996 3,596,080 $65,069.74 5
Delaware 58,028 925,749 $62,682.22 7
District of Columbia 105,465 646,449 $163,145.12 1
Florida 750,511 19,552,860 $38,383.69 46
Georgia 424,606 9,992,167 $42,493.89 37
Hawaii 70,110 1,404,054 $49,933.98 20
Idaho 57,029 1,612,136 $35,374.81 50
Illinois 671,407 12,882,135 $52,119.23 17
Indiana 294,212 6,570,902 $44,774.98 31
Iowa 150,512 3,090,416 $48,702.83 21
Kansas 132,153 2,893,957 $45,665.16 28
Kentucky 170,667 4,395,295 $38,829.48 44
Louisiana 222,008 4,625,470 $47,996.85 24
Maine 51,163 1,328,302 $38,517.60 45
Maryland 322,234 5,928,814 $54,350.50 11
Massachusetts 420,748 6,692,824 $62,865.54 6
Michigan 408,218 9,895,622 $41,252.38 39
Minnesota 289,125 5,420,380 $53,340.36 14
Mississippi 96,979 2,991,207 $32,421.36 51
Missouri 258,135 6,044,171 $42,708.09 35
Montana 39,846 1,015,165 $39,250.76 42
Nebraska 98,250 1,868,516 $52,581.83 15
Nevada 123,903 2,790,136 $44,407.51 33
New Hampshire 64,118 1,323,459 $48,447.29 23
New Jersey 509,067 8,899,339 $57,202.79 9
New Mexico 84,310 2,085,287 $40,430.89 40
New York 1,226,619 19,651,127 $62,419.78 8
North Carolina 439,672 9,848,060 $44,645.54 32
North Dakota 49,772 723,393 $68,803.54 3
Ohio 526,196 11,570,808 $45,476.17 29
Oklahoma 164,303 3,850,568 $42,669.81 36
Oregon 211,241 3,930,065 $53,750.00 12
Pennsylvania 603,872 12,773,801 $47,274.26 26
Rhode Island 49,962 1,051,511 $47,514.48 25
South Carolina 172,176 4,774,839 $36,059.02 49
South Dakota 41,142 844,877 $48,695.85 22
Tennessee 269,602 6,495,978 $41,502.91 38
Texas 1,387,598 26,448,193 $52,464.76 16
Utah 131,017 2,900,872 $45,164.70 30
Vermont 27,723 626,630 $44,241.42 34
Virginia 426,423 8,260,405 $51,622.53 19
Washington 381,017 6,971,406 $54,654.25 10
West Virginia 68,541 1,854,304 $36,963.19 48
Wisconsin 264,126 5,742,713 $45,993.24 27
Wyoming 39,538 582,658 $67,857.99 4
15 comments

How does a practical Republican react to an underperforming state economy and Governor Dennis Daugaard's blasé budget proposal? John Tsitrian says drop the political posturing, prioritize practical economics, and expand Medicaid:

Given Daugaard's cautiously reactive tone when discussing the upcoming budget, I wondered why our Governor couldn't be a bit more pro-active in his approach to energizing the economy. Daugaard is either overlooking or ignoring an obvious boost to our near-static growth rates--Medicaid expansion.

...[C]onsider the total outlays by SD through 2022 vs. the revenues from the federal government:  SD pays out $157 million and gets back $2.1 billion, yes billion with a "b." Are we as a state too stupid to grasp what a good deal this is? [John Tsitrian, "With SD's Economy Drifting into the Doldrums, Expanding medicaid Makes More Sense than Ever," The Constant Commoner, 2014.12.11]

Even if you think the Affordable Care Act won't last, it's time to get out the Mickelson bucket and catch some of that federal money while it's raining.

24 comments

A couple of charts in state economist Jim Terwilliger's presentation to the South Dakota Banking Commission last Friday explain part South Dakota's doldrummy fiscal outlook.

Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 11.02.57From 1997 to 2007, farm income averaged about 6% of South Dakota's personal income.  When ethanol boomed, so did crop prices, and the farm percentage of our income grew to almost 11% by 2011. In 2013, it was back down to 9.2%.

Corn dropped 40% in 2013 and is down another 6.7% this year; oilseed is also down (OPEC strikes again!). Corn and wheat futures have dropped back to the trough they dropped into right after the recession. Hmm... imagine how much worse corn prices could have been if the Chinese resolved their grain-storage shortage and stopped losing so much corn to mold.

Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 11.03.17Average farm income under Daugaard has been double the average farm income under Rounds; equipment tax collections have tripled from the Rounds-era midpoint. Low farm prices will bend down, not boost, those returns.

Those curves may not bend down as far as we fear. Thanks to all those pastures getting plowed for corn, fewer cattle are out there, taking beef prices to an all-time high. Until the market rebalances, ranchers who held beef stand to make some money. Now if we just hadn't let those schemers run that beef plant in Aberdeen into bankruptcy, we might have a nice surfboard to ride that beef wave for even more economic activity.

5 comments

Kevin Drum produces a remarkable chart that shows President Barack Obama's clear superiority to his predecessor in helping the economy recover from recession:

Chart: Obama vs. Bush Employment Recovery

Source: Kevin Drum, "The Obama Recovery Has Been Miles Better Than the Bush Recovery," Mother Jones, 2014.12.06

Count private employment as a percentage of the labor force, and you see that in five and a half years, President Bush never got private employment back to a larger percentage of the workforce than it was when he took office. Under President Obama, that percentage has climbed steadily higher. President Obama achieved this recovery from a far worse recession than President Bush faced. President Obama has also achieved this recovery without the housing boom that fueled much of President Bush's recovery but which, as Drum reminds us, ended in "an epic global crash."

Drum spots President Bush a few points with a second graph that includes government employment:

Obama vs. Bush, Total Jobs Recovery

Source: Kevin Drum, "The Obama Recovery Has Been Miles Better Than the Bush Recovery," Mother Jones, 2014.12.06

We raise President Bush's numbers and lower President Obama's if we include government payrolls.

Bush got a nice tailwind from increased hiring at the state and federal level. Obama, conversely, was sailing into heavy headwinds because he inherited a worse recession. States cut employment sharply—partly because they had to and partly because Republican governors saw the recession as an opportunity to slash the size of government—and Congress was unwilling to help them out in any kind of serious way [Kevin Drum, "The Obama Recovery Has Been Miles Better Than the Bush Recovery," Mother Jones, 2014.12.06].

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: President Barack Obama is beating his predecessor George W. Bush on economic performance. The difference would be even greater if President Obama had grown government the way President Bush did.

Related Reading: Discussing British politics, Simon Wren-Lewis says that ideologues who adopt a "small state" as a matter of principle miss lots of points:

...they are not prepared to look at these items on their merits. Instead they have a blanket ideological distaste for all things to do with government. The evidence that government is ‘always the problem’ is just not there. The idea that private sector activity is always welfare enhancing and is best left alone was blown out of the water by the financial crisis.

...reducing government spending during a liquidity trap recession does real harm. It wastes resources on a huge scale.

...a final problem I have with small state people... is their disregard for the evidence. It is true that most people are bad at acknowledging counter evidence, but those with an ideological conviction are worse than most [Simon Wren-Lewis, "The Imaginary World of Small State People," Mainly Macro, 2014.12.07].

5 comments
Rick Weiland, at coffee shop campaign stop, Madison, South Dakota, 2013.07.16

Rick Weiland

Sorry, Meade County Dems: Rick Weiland does not want to chair the South Dakota Democratic Party. We can now focus on debating the relative merits of Ann Tornberg and Jeff Barth as to who can best redirect and rebuild the party.

Whomever Dems pick as their practical leader, they should look for someone who can align with Weiland's philosophical leadership. Consider this passage from Weiland's message to supporters yesterday, which sounds more like a call to arms than a demurral:

But in 2014 our Democratic Party has become almost as hogtied by big money as the other party and ridding our political system of it’s influence became the cornerstone of my campaign for the United States Senate.

It is past time for another injection of common sense from the prairie.

We need a new declaration of independence, a declaration of independence from big money [Rick Weiland, e-mail, 2014.12.04].

Weiland is saying the same thing here that he consistently said during his 18 months on the Senate campaign trail: plutocracy is bad for democracy, and even his own Democratic Party needs to do more to reclaim democracy from its rich hijackers. It sounds an awful lot like what many progressive commentators are saying Democrats need to do to win back their base.

David Dayen says the working class and the middle class are mad that the wealthy have rigged the system in their own favor, and the only thing they are hearing from most Democrats is the same free-market bushwa they get from Republicans:

This is not the Democratic Party of your great-grandfather’s New Deal or your grandfather’s Great Society. The takeover of the party by more business-friendly interests — which ironically (or perhaps not) dates back to right around 1973, when wages decoupled from productivity — necessarily impoverishes the imagination around issues of economic security and prosperity [David Dayen, "The So-So Society: Democrats Have Forgotten What Made Them Great," Fiscal Times, 2014.11.14].

William Greider says we can't campaign on the Obama recovery because the near-18K Dow isn't lifting the masses' boats, and Dems look as pro-Wall Street as the GOP:

Barack Obama kept telling folks to brighten up: the economy is coming back, he said, and prosperity is just around the corner.

A party truly connected to the people would never have dared to make such a claim. In the real world of voters, human experience trumps macroeconomics and the slowly declining official unemployment rate. An official at the AFL-CIO culled the following insights from what voters said about themselves on Election Day: 54 percent suffered a decline in household income during the past year. Sixty-three percent feel the economy is fundamentally unfair. Fifty-five percent agree strongly (and another 25 percent agree somewhat) that both political parties are too focused on helping Wall Street and not enough on helping ordinary people [William Greider, "How the Democratic Party Lost Its Soul," The Nation, 2014.11.11].

Dave Johnson of the Campaign for America's Future says Democrats' "New Coke" response to the GOP's pro-business Pepsi has driven voters away:

As Democrats embraced neoliberal “market solution” arguments and moved away from representing the interests of working-class and middle-class voters, many of those voters had nowhere left to turn and simply stopped voting [Dave Johnson, "Is the Democratic Party Relevant Anymore?" Truthout, 2014.12.03].

The Nation says voters see the Democratic Party "too close to corporate funders" and calls for a progressive challenger to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Presidential primary. Richard R.J. Eskow says Democrats must rekindle a "passionate commitment to core progressive values" to restore their party's soul. Greider calls for outright populist-progressive insurrection to reclaim the party:

What we need is a rump formation of dissenters who will break free of the Democratic Party’s confines and set a new agenda that will build the good society rather than feed bloated wealth, disloyal corporations and absurd foreign wars. This is the politics the country needs: purposeful insurrection inside and outside party bounds, and a willingness to disrupt the regular order [Greider, 2014.11.11].

Is Weiland reading these thinkers? Are these thinkers reading Weiland? Whichever the case may be, Weiland may be positioning himself to lead just such a progressive-populist fight for the soul of his party. Weiland writes in his December 4 e-mail that he will do everything in his power "to assist the new Chairperson," but by keeping himself out of the elected party leadership, he keeps the freedom to advocate and criticize his party to push them toward his populist values.

As the South Dakota Democrat to emerge from the unpleasant midterms with the largest, most active base, Weiland doesn't need an official title to lead the party in the right direction. Dems, and next Dem chair, you should strongly consider following Weiland in the fight against plutocracy.

111 comments

David Montgomery says Governor Dennis Daugaard proposed a "modest" 2.5% increase in the FY 2016 budget because of a slow state economy:

The cautious increase was spurred by a lukewarm economy. The state's revenue is growing slowly — not enough to pay for massive new spending programs.

Instead, Daugaard offered a collection of minor initiatives... [David Montgomery, "$4.3B Proposed Budget Includes $49M in New Spending," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.12.02].

Bob Mercer calls Governor Daugaard's economic forecast "gloomy":

Coming out of the recession in 2011 and 2012, South Dakota’s economy looked to be on a solid path of recovery. Now it seems the recovery was short. The state sales-tax growth so far in fiscal 2015 that began July 1 of this year didn’t meet the forecast set by the Legislature when the fiscal 2015 budget for state government was approved. The governor’s recommended budget for fiscal 2016 that starts July 1, 2015, estimates sales-tax revenues will grow 4.1 percent. He said that’s below average. He also mentioned that U.S. job growth on a percentage basis is now outpacing South Dakota [Bob Mercer, "Colder Economy Ahead for South Dakota?" Pure Pierre Politics, 2014.12.04].

Wait a minute. Governor Daugaard keeps telling us that if we focus on economic development, that great influx of businesses and investment and jobs will generate more revenue, which we will then be able to use to pay our teachers more and patch more potholes and bolster more bridges without raising taxes. That's the game we've played for four years, and what does it get us? Lower than expected economic growth? A measly 2% increase in education that barely keeps up with inflation, never mind make real improvements?

We can't blame Obama, can we? The U.S. economy trucked along at 4.6% growth second quarter and 3.9% third quarter. South Dakota's sales tax revenues grew by about the same amount. If Dennis Daugaard's policies are better than Barack Obama's, South Dakota should be outperforming the nation.

Are we supposed to wait for Keystone XL? TransCanada already built one awesome tar sands pipeline across our fair state five years ago. Where is the incredible uptick in public revenue from Keystone 1?

Are we supposed to wait for welfare recipient Bel Brands to ship its billionth baby cheese wheel down I-29? The state already subsidized Valley Queen and Lake Norden Cheese into existence with EB-5 money for dairies and state funds for roads and gubernatorial dairy recruitment. Why aren't we already swimming in milky riches?

The whole governmental justification for Daugaardonomics is to produce more revenue for government. But four years of Dennis Daugaard's business-über-alles policymaking has produced no discernible fiscal benefits.

Dennis, you said this plan would work. It's not working. Why don't we try a different plan?

Why don't we try investing some of our own money up front? Let's decide this session we're tired of waiting for Santa Koch and the Trickle Fairy. We're tired of waiting for some Daddy Subsidy-Bucks to move here and plant money trees outside his feedlot. We're tired of imagining we can solve all of our problems with someone else's money.

Let's decide this session that we're going to make a serious, sustained investment in our schools, our roads, and our natural resources.

  1. We're going to raise every South Dakota teacher's pay by $2,500 next year and keep going until the end of FY 2019, by which time we will have raised South Dakota teacher pay by $10,000. We will pay for it by eliminating tax exemptions for commercial fertilizer, pesticides, and certain lodging or by imposing a corporate income tax as a down payment on maintaining a well-trained workforce, not to mention a citizenry fully equipped for democracy.
  2. We will adopt in full the proposals of Senator Mike Vehle (R-20/Mitchell) and the interim Highway Needs and Financing Committee to invest $144 million in unmet highway maintenance needs. (And when John Thune, Kristi Noem, and Mike Rounds fly back from Washington, we will send the Highway Patrol to detain them at the airport and send them right back to D.C. unless and until they have passed legislation to save the federal Highway Trust Fund.)
  3. We will defund the Future Fund and the entire Governor's Office of Economic Development and reassign every dollar and every FTE to the DENR and the GF&P. Those funds and staff will be used to allow DENR to step up enforcement of existing permits and regulations and to help GF&P keep our parks beautiful and accessible.

Investing immediately in our schools, our roads, and our natural resources isn't any more radical than inserting government into the free market to pick winners and hope they reciprocate with trickle-down economics. Investing in good teachers, solid bridges, clean water, and nice parks can't hurt South Dakota. Plus, such investments in public goods are exactly the kind of work government is supposed to be doing (read your Adam Smith, you commies).

Let's just try it, seriously, for four years. January 2019, we look around and see if South Dakota has gone up in flames. We see if we still have a teacher shortage. We see if Bel Brands and Gehl and Citibank have left (on our really smooth roads and stable bridges). We see if Minnesotans are throwing eggs at our Mall of America booth to protest our clean water and nice parks.

And if we don't like the looks of government prioritizing its proper Adam Smithian role of investing in public goods, we can go right back our centrally planned, crony capitalist Do-Guard-Your-Profits-onomics.

Legislators, who's game? You can make that your agenda now... or I can just save that up for our Democratic gubernatorial candidate's platform in 2018.

6 comments

Saudi Arabia gave a Black Friday gift to the world oil market. The Saudis have persuaded their OPEC partners to sustain OPEC's current oil production rates (30 million barrels per day) rather than cutting production to pull oil prices out of their current slide. The Saudis' main objective is to crush North American producers with low prices and regain market share.

Remember that our country's booming oil production is based on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. 80% of the fracking fields in the U.S. require oil prices of $80 per barrel or more to remain profitable. Canadian oil firms have been making their budget projections around assumptions of oil hanging around $80 per barrel. Immediately after OPEC's decision, the price for North American oil, West Texas Intermediate, dropped to $69.05.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Rafael Ramirez confirms the basic profit equation and declares himself a friend of U.S. environmentalists opposed to fracking:

"OPEC is always fighting with the United States because the United States has declared it is always against OPEC... Shale oil is a disaster as a method of production, the fracking. But also it is too expensive. And there we are going to see what will happen with production," he said [Alex Lawler, Amena Bakr and Dmitry Zhdannikov, "Inside OPEC Room, Naimi Declares Price War on U.S. Shale Oil," Reuters via KELO Radio, 2014.11.28].

If you're pumping gasoline into your car, you should be cheering this price war, right? Cheaper oil means cheaper gasoline, which means we can all drive around and buy more stuff, stimulating the economy.

The OPEC price war could save North Dakota from the ills of petro-state chaos and corruption. American drillers aren't going to keep pumping oil at a loss out of patriotism or a love of the view of Minot from the man camps. The Saudis drove Americans out of the oil business in 1986; they could do it again.

The OPEC price war could also make the Keystone XL pipeline disappear. Canadian tar sands oil requires a price of $85 per barrel to make scooping that goop profitable.

For bonus geopolitical excitement, the Russians need $100 per barrel to balance their budget. Vladimir Putin will have a hard time continuing his invasion of Ukraine if low oil prices threaten a repeat of the Soviet collapse. Then again, Putin is not Gorbachev. Faced with economic hard times, rather than retreating, restructuring, and releasing his grip on his neighbors, Putin might lash out, reaching for more land, resources, and power.

But then we get to a strangely familiar and ugly economic scenario. Big banks have made big loans to finance Big Oil in North America. The frackers carry a lot of junk-bond debt. If oil stays low, we could see defaults that could create another financial crisis:

Based on recent stress tests of subprime borrowers in the energy sector in the US produced by Deutsche Bank, should the price of US crude fall by a further 20pc to $60 per barrel, it could result in up to a 30pc default rate among B and CCC rated high-yield US borrowers in the industry....

“A shock of that magnitude could be sufficient to trigger a broader high-yield market default cycle, if materialised,” warn Deutsche strategists Oleg Melentyev and Daniel Sorid in their report [Andrew Critchlow, "Oil Price Slump to Trigger New US Debt Default Crisis as OPEC Waits," UK Telegraph, 2014.11.14].

Critchlow hears 2007 all over again. Just like bankers underwriting real estaters in a housing bubble pre-2007, bankers are underwriting oilers in an oil bubble based on possibly unsustainable prices. The Saudis are now popping the bubble.

But if the joys of cheap gasoline are crushed by the pain of junk-bond defaults, at least you'll be able to blame Obama right alongside the Saudis:

...This rush to pump more oil in the US has created a dangerous debt bubble in a notoriously volatile segment of corporate credit markets, which could pose a wider systemic risk in the world’s biggest economy. By encouraging ever more drilling in pursuit of lower oil prices, the US Department of Energy has unleashed a potential economic monster and pitched these heavily debt-laden shale oil drilling companies into an impossible battle for market share against some of the world’s most powerful low-cost producers in the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries [Critchlow, 2014.11.14].

The Saudis are dropping our gasoline prices more surely than anything Mike Rounds or Kristi Noem has promised us. OPEC may shut down fracking and Keystone XL more effectively than any spirit camp. But the potential for a financial crisis that could swamp the  benefits of cheap gasoline should make us beware Saudis bearing gifts.

47 comments

Governing posts Bureau of Labor Statistics data showing job growth over the past twelve months in all fifty states. Without counting North Dakota's dangerous and poorly regulated Bakken job boom, South Dakota is slogging along in the middle among its neighbors:

State Job Change Oct 2013–Oct 2014 Average Monthly Change %Job Change Oct 2013–Oct 2014 Nonfarm Jobs Oct 2014
Iowa 15,400 1,283 1.0 1,556,900
Minnesota 49,400 4,117 1.8 2,847,000
Montana 6,800 567 1.5 455,100
Nebraska 8,300 692 0.8 991,800
North Dakota 22,500 1,875 5.0 471,700
South Dakota 6,000 500 1.4 422,700
Wyoming 6,200 517 2.1 298,100

To reinforce the point I made Friday, Minnesota has more progressive economic and fiscal policies, yet it is outpacing South Dakota on percentages for job growth.

4 comments

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