Once again, Star Tribune cheers mediocre performance

We Minnesotans have a habit of patting ourselves on the back for performance that is, at best, average. Our local press, especially the Minneapolis Star Tribune, encourages this form of self-deception. A case in point was an article in today’s Strib business section headlined Twin Cities economy posts solid gain in 2015. The boosterish article, by Adam Belz, was based on a release of data by the Bureau of Economic Analysis on economic growth by metropolitan area:

The Twin Cities economy grew steadily in 2015, setting a pace that’s better than average and keeping Minneapolis-St. Paul in its spot as the 13th-largest metropolitan economy in the U.S.

Gross domestic product from the 16-county area grew 2.7 percent last year, enough to stay just ahead of San Jose-Sunnyvale and Detroit and just outpacing the national average for growth, 2.5 percent, according to data released Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Commerce.

If you read far enough, you learn that Southern and Western cities generally did best.

Meanwhile, New York, Washington, D.C., Boston, Baltimore and Detroit all grew about 2 percent or slower. Places like Chicago, Atlanta and Minneapolis-St. Paul hovered in the middle.

Let’s be more specific: of the 20 largest metropolitan statistical areas by GDP, 11 grew faster than the Twin Cities, and 8 slower. In other words, the Twin Cities held down its familiar spot in the bottom half of the nation’s urban areas. Most cities wouldn’t find such mediocrity anything to celebrate about, but here in Minnesota it’s “solid” performance.

Belz then takes a detour into undisguised left-wing politics. These paragraphs would embarrass any professional reporter, and a great many amateurs:

States in the region known for governors who are committed to low taxes — Kansas and Wisconsin — performed below average last year.

In Kansas, Manhattan was the most productive city with a 2.4 percent economic growth rate. Lawrence was flat, Topeka’s economy shrank by 3.5 percent, and Kansas City, whose metro area stretches into Kansas, grew at a rate of 1.5 percent.

In Wisconsin, the economies of Madison, Eau Claire and Wausau grew solidly, but Milwaukee, Green Bay, Fond du Lac, Sheboygan, Janesville and La Crosse all grew at a rate below 2 percent. Racine’s economy shrank.

Belz obviously tries to imply that low taxes are bad for economic growth, a proposition that is absurd on its face. But what is the point of randomly identifying two states whose “governors are committed to low taxes”? Did either Wisconsin or Kansas cut taxes in 2014? Belz doesn’t say. Are they even lower-tax states? Wisconsin is a high-tax state, not a low-tax state.

And how about other states with governors who are “committed to low taxes,” like North Dakota, South Dakota, Washington, Texas, and others? Texas vastly outperforms Minnesota. Is that because it has a governor (and a legislature) committed to low taxes? Many Minnesota businesses have moved to the Dakotas; how many have gone in the other direction? Belz’s argument is so silly that it is hardly worth refuting.

But let’s stay with it for a moment longer. A governor is the governor of his whole state, not just the metropolitan areas. So how did Kansas, Wisconsin and Minnesota do with regard to GDP growth in the latest state-wide figures released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis?

That would be GDP growth for the first quarter of 2016. And guess what: Wisconsin (rank 33) and Kansas (rank 14) outperformed Mark Dayton’s Minnesota (rank 36, at a mere 0.2% growth rate).

Of course it is silly to draw policy conclusions from such random, short-term comparisons. If Adam Belz can’t understand this, he shouldn’t be a reporter.