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Opinion | Before the DeSantis-Newsom Debate, Let’s Look at Their Economic Records

Admin By Admin Nov29,2023

I’ll be glued to the TV on Thursday for the debate between Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida and Gov. Gavin Newsom of California on Fox News. (Not a plug.) It will pit a conservative Republican against a liberal Democrat, a one-time outfielder for Yale against a one-time pitcher for Santa Clara University, a fighter against another fighter. As Fox’s Sean Hannity told The Times, DeSantis and Newsom are “two very smart, well-educated, highly opinionated, philosophically different governors” who are “diametrically opposed.”

Still not sure why these two are debating, but bring out the popcorn!

My contribution to the predebate festivities is the following table, which highlights some differences between Florida and California. I expect each governor to pitch his state’s virtues, so it’s good to have some data to put up against their claims. Consider this an economic version of the boxing world’s tale of the tape (while keeping in mind that governors deserve neither all the credit nor all the blame for their states’ economies).

In a nutshell, California has the edge in median incomes, research universities and tech. Florida has cheaper housing, lower taxes, lower unemployment, a growing population and less violent crime. As the table shows, California is more unequal than Florida. While median household incomes in California are nearly a third higher than in Florida, the poverty rate is also higher.

In K-12 education, neither state excels. Forty-one percent of fourth graders in Florida test at or above the proficiency level in math, versus 35 percent nationally. California is below the national average, at 30 percent. By eighth grade the states are equally weak, at 23 percent at or above proficiency in math, below the (disappointing) 26 percent national average.

California has much higher gasoline prices, partly because of higher taxes, but I hesitate to call that a mark against the state. It’s smart to tax gasoline heavily to account for the damage it does to the environment, including global warming. (How to do that without penalizing low-income people who need to drive a lot is a separate question.)

It won’t surprise anyone that the information economy — which includes motion pictures, broadcasting and the internet — is almost twice as important to California as to Florida, or that Florida gets more of its jobs from amusement, gambling and recreation. I was a little surprised to see that California has much bigger shares of its employment in manufacturing and state and local government.

California and Florida do have some things in common. They’re both really big: the largest and third-largest states by population, with Texas in between. Both also have lots of natural disasters, beaches, orange groves and Disney parks — although Disney isn’t feeling so welcome in Florida since DeSantis started attacking it for wokeness and saying the company is seeking “to rob our children of their innocence.”

Both governors also understand the importance of economic development. Unlike DeSantis, Newsom has avoided tangling with any C.E.O.s in his state. He has been mostly friendly to business. He has supported the development of artificial intelligence and self-driving cars and pushed back against tax increases. He argues that reducing greenhouse gas emissions is good for the economy as well as the planet.

The strongest argument for Florida is that it continues to attract people, albeit at a slower rate than in the past century, while California lost residents in 2021 and 2022. People voted with their feet. One factor pushing people from California is ridiculously high housing prices. The median listing price for single-family homes in October was 62 percent higher in California than in Florida. Newsom is chipping away at the housing shortage and the closely related problem of homelessness, but he has a ways to go.

I’d say the strongest argument for California is that it continues to be a hothouse of innovation in technology, entertainment, medicine and other fields. I interviewed Dee Dee Myers, who is the director of the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development in California. “More than a quarter of residents are foreign-born,” she said. “Some are picking fruits and vegetables. Some are building new A.I. models. They want to come here for a reason. They can do things that they can’t do in other states. It’s not just a welcome, it’s an embrace.”

In his State of the State address this year, DeSantis highlighted Florida’s leadership in a few conventional measures, such as job growth, as well as some unconventional ones: “We rank number one for protections of our citizens against the biomedical security state, from prohibiting ‘jab or job’ mandates to banning vaccine passports to ensuring hospital visitation rights.” He also urged Floridians to ignore the “chattering class” and to keep the compass set to true north (which is hard to do because compasses naturally point to magnetic north, but whatever).

Florida’s conservative business establishment worries about Florida becoming more like California, with higher taxes and more regulation. “We can all agree that with businesses fleeing high-cost states and finding their way to the Sunshine State to do business, we must work to make sure Florida remains Florida,” the Florida Chamber of Commerce says. Likewise, Californians seem to be happy with California remaining California.

“And never the twain shall meet,” as Rudyard Kipling put it. Except, I guess, for Thursday on Fox.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics officially measures rental inflation by averaging the payments of all tenants — people who just moved in and people who have lived in the same place for years. An index that looks just at new tenants gives a better look at the latest pricing trends. Zillow, for example, has the Zillow Observed Rent Index. Now the Bureau of Labor Statistics itself has gotten into the game with a New Tenant Rent Index, an experimental measure that is being reported quarterly starting with the third quarter of 2023, which was released Nov. 22. The agency says its version is “a carefully constructed, nationally representative random sample” and that it controls for aging of the housing stock and documents what utilities are and aren’t included in the rent.

This chart shows that the new tenant index peaked in the second quarter of 2022 and has come down sharply. The all tenant index — the one included in the Consumer Price Index — rose later and is coming down later as well. That’s because it takes time for the latest pricing trends to filter through the entire rental market.

“You know what that means when they pay you minimum wage? You know what they’re trying to tell you? It’s like, ‘Hey, if I could pay you less, I would. But it’s against the law.’”

— Chris Rock, “Born Suspect” album (1991)

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