Candidate Evaluations: Rick Perry

by Benjamin Studebaker

Rick Perry has joined the race for president, so here goes another candidate evaluation. I’ll be evaluating Perry’s background, policy history, and explicit statements to determine whether or not he would make a good president. I won’t be paying attention to electability or likeability, as is often common elsewhere on the web.

Here are all the other evaluations we’ve done:

This is Rick Perry:

Perry has a BA in animal science from Texas A&M University. Unlike many of the other candidates, he did not get a law degree. Like Lindsey Graham, he has military experience–he was in the Air Force for five years during the 1970’s. After leaving the military in 1977, he farmed cotton until he was elected to the Texas legislature in 1984. Initially, Perry was a democrat. He defected to the republicans in 1989. He moved to Agriculture Commissioner in 1990, winning with the help of a younger Karl Rove. He was reelected in 1994 and jumped to Lieutenant Governor in 1999 (having a legendary falling out with Rove and the George W. Bush camp in the process). When Bush became president, Perry moved into the governor’s chair, holding it for 15 years. This makes Perry the longest serving governor to have entered the race, and it means he has a very long record that can be easily examined.

Perry is very proud of his economic record as governor. On the surface, this appears defensible. When Perry became governor, Texas’ unemployment rate was half a point higher than the national average, and it’s now 1.3 points lower:

Perry Unemployment

On per capita income, Texas has closed the gap on the rest of the country:

Perry Per Capita Income

In 2001, Texas’s per capita income was 94.2% of the national average. By 2013, the gap had closed to 98.0%. That’s a significant gain. How did Perry do this? Back in July 2013, I took a closer look.

Perry’s preferred explanation is that Texas’ tax rates are not very high relative to those of other states. Perry believes this has created a pro-business climate in Texas. It’s certainly true that Texans enjoy a lower state and local tax burden than nearly everyone:

But this is not the whole story. In 2013, I did a little original research, comparing the economic performance of the 10 states with the highest tax rates to the 10 with the lowest. Nationally, there’s no clear statistical relationship between the tax rate and unemployment:

Unemployment was slightly higher in the high tax group (7.5% on average compared with 6.6% in the low tax group), but not much higher, and there were very poor performing low tax states (Nevada) and very good performaning high tax states (Minnesota). Both groups outperformed the national average for 2013 (7.6%).

When I did the same thing for per capita GDP, I found that higher tax rates actually tended to yield better economic performance:

Alaska and Wyoming are low population density states rich in commodities, which did well after the recession. If we took them out, we’d have a substantive trend here, one that certainly doesn’t help Perry’s argument for lowering taxes.

So if Texas’ tax rates didn’t make it succeed, what did? There are two reasons why Texas has done well, neither of which can be replicated by a future president on the national level:

1. Commodities–Texas is home to a strong mining industry. This accounts for about a third of its growth advantage over the rest of the country:

The mineral resources that exist in Texas simply do not exist everywhere, so Perry cannot replicate the mining growth nationally.

2. Wage Tanking–Texas pushes its wages down, allowing it to poach business from affluent states. Here’s how Texan median hourly wages compared with those of some of its prominent competitors in 2011:

The percent earning at or below the federal minimum wage is also higher in Texas. Here are the 2013 figures for the same set of states:

Perry Minimum Wage

So if you’re a firm looking to choose a US location with low labor costs, Texas looks like a great option, especially if you like to hire workers at the bottom of the wage scale. During Perry’s run, many companies have moved from California and the Northeast to Texas for precisely this reason. But if you’re the federal government, this is no good–it’s not job creation, it’s merely job relocation. At the national level, Perry’s policies merely replace higher wage jobs located in on the coasts with lower wage jobs located in Texas. From the perspective of the federal government, Texas is just making America’s jobs crummier.

To replicate the same strategy at the national level, Perry would have to push down wages nationwide. There are a lot of problems with this strategy. One is that living costs are much higher on the coasts, where housing is more expensive. Dropping or holding down wages in New York or California produces far more hardship than the same policy does when applied to spacious, low-cost Texas. But a bigger problem is that internationally, the United States is not always competing for jobs with countries that merely have slightly lower wages, it’s often competing for jobs with countries whose workers are borderline slaves. Running lower wages than China is not a realistic or sensible policy goal:

Chinese wages have struggled to rise even to 10% of that of their US counterparts, and many other developing countries have kept their wages well under half of our own. Any attempt to compete with these countries on wages would be utterly disastrous, we simply would not be able to sustain our consumer economy if we paid our workers this kind of money. It’s one thing to undercut California on wages, it’s quite another to undercut the Philippines.

So we have no reason whatsoever to believe that Perry could successfully implement Texan economic policies across the nation. Now, this is not enough to disqualify Perry in and of itself. If Perry were aware of these fundamental differences between running Texas and running the country and had a different or more inventive national strategy, he could still be a viable candidate. Does he have that strategy? Not even close:

  • He wants a balanced budget amendment, which would destroy the government’s ability to make emergency interventions into the economy during times of crisis.
  • He wants a flat tax rate, an extremely regressive policy that would further expand economic inequality.
  • He doesn’t acknowledge global warming or want the government to do anything about it.
  • He thinks social security is unconstitutional, despite the 1937 rulings (there were two of them) to the contrary. He also thinks Medicare is unconstitutional, as well as a wide variety of other extant federal programs and laws, including environmental regulations, labor laws, financial regulations, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and many other programs that serve the public interest.
  • He wants to repeal Obamacare, offering no federal alternative to it of any kind.
  • He opposes gay marriage and defended Texas’ law against sodomy in 2002.
  • Like Lindsey Graham, he wants to re-invade Iraq.

In his book, Fed Up!he takes a wide array of extremely reactionary positions, only a few of which I have outlined above. His indifference to the benefits of the programs and departments he wishes to axe is breathtaking.


Rick Perry is one of the most extreme republican candidates to have declared so far, and he’s one of the worst choices available. He appears to lack a basic understanding of the workings of the global economy and has taken deeply ignorant, misguided stances on just about every major issue. His appeal to the relative economic prosperity of Texas is misleading and makes too many demonstrably false assumptions. He should not be president, and it shames our country that I even have to write this.