An article in the NY Times with the innocuous title “Lines Blur as Texas Gives Industries a Bonanza” brings up one of my pet peeves. The article is about how Texas gives out billions of dollars in tax breaks to entice companies to open factories in the state. Where does this money come from? Last year, Texas cut education by $5.4 billion.
Proponents claim the tax breaks create jobs, but they are actually just stealing jobs from other states, who are competing over who can bribe companies more in order to get their business. Indeed, Governor Rick Perry brags that about a third of the jobs he recruits came from California. Asked if he has qualms about taking jobs from other states, Perry says “Competition is what drives this country.” It is sad when a governor of one of our largest states doesn’t understand that it is businesses who are supposed to be competing, not states in handing out bribes and stealing jobs.
And how is it working out for Texas? In exchange for giving out $19 billion in incentives — significantly more than any other state, costing taxpayers $759 each per year and comprising over half the state budget — Texas does get to brag that unemployment is low and has more new jobs than any other state. And yet the state still has the 11th worst poverty rate of all states and the third-highest proportion of jobs that pay at or below minimum wage.
And what is the result of this competition? Amazon opened up a distribution center near Dallas using incentives from the state, but six years later shut it down because of a tax dispute.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Giving tax breaks is just the latest incarnation of supply-side economics. It does not create jobs. Demand creates jobs. A state could offer to completely subsidize the salary of a new employee, but as a businessman I’m still not going to hire anyone unless there is demand for what that worker would do.
Republicans like to complain that federal incentives like the ones that promote energy efficient products are the government picking winners or losers, but giving tax breaks to individual companies is easily the worst form of this. Most of the tax incentives go to large companies, like Walmart, Texas Instruments, Shell, AT&T, Verizon, General Motors, Tyson Foods, and the German chemical giant BASF. This completely ignores the fact that most real new jobs are created by small businesses.
Cutting education, health, and other services, is a double edged sword. It doesn’t create educated and healthy workers for these jobs. But the real problem is that it doesn’t nurture the real job creators — people who would start new small businesses. Even worse, giving out tax breaks to large companies tilts the playing field against small businesses.
Handing out tax breaks is a spiral of addiction that makes people more dependent on large companies. And it makes even the large companies addicted to the tax breaks since they make business decisions based on which state gives them the biggest bribe. They become the real “takers” who mooch off of society.