Friday, July 08, 2005
Why Mississippi Loses Out

One point I frequently try to make to conservatives -- particularly the fiscal kind -- is that paying taxes to support the common good leads directly to the kind of prosperity that allows them to make so much money that they complain about how high their taxes are. The wellbeing of the lower and working classes -- and the taxpayer-funded subsidies that help support their needs -- are directly related to the prosperity of the public in general. If you cut taxes and subsequently cut spending, you also cut the wellbeing of those people; down the line, as the standard of living of the lower classes begins to decline, so follows the local/regional/national economy. And once that begins to tank, the number of people making a killing is going to follow it down. Failing to support the weakest and poorest members of our society is exactly the same as failing to support the strongest and richest.

Case in point: the new Toyota factory slated to be built in Woodstock, Ontario, Canada.

In recent years, Toyota has built factories in southern US states like Alabama and Mississippi, and both states were potential sites for this factory. The states courted the company aggressively -- Alabama and Mississippi are both deeply economically depressed states and desperately need the jobs. But Toyota turned them down in favor of Canada for two reasons: 1) Canada's educational system, and 2) Canada's health care system.

Toyota says it's had trouble training workers adequately in the southern US because employees are so poorly educated and illiteracy is so widespread that they often have to use "pictorials" rather than manuals to teach workers to use equipment. Furthermore, the money they save on insuring workers in Canada, who are covered by a national healthcare system, was at least enough to balance out the much lower subsidies Canada offered the company. Mississippi and Alabama offered twice as much in tax breaks, to the tune of half a billion dollars, and even that wasn't enough to convince Toyota to build another plant there.

So there are 1,300 good jobs that won't be had by any Alabaman or Mississippian, which is tragic considering how badly those jobs are needed in both states. Those states were willing to cough up $500 million to attract a major corporation, so why aren't they also willing to invest that money to create a better-educated, healthier workforce? In this case, it might have made all the difference. As goes Toyota, so shall go other potential employers; without the companies, jobs all along the economic spectrum will dry up. There must be at least one would-be Mississippi executive who won't be complaining about his wages from Toyota being so high that he has to pay what he feels an unfair sum in taxes... but it's that very attitude that robbed him of the opportunity.

A high-quality education and adequate, affordable healthcare for every single American shouldn't even be up for debate, much less something for which we have to struggle. A society can only advance as far as its least citizens; by pulling them up, we all get ahead. There's a place for competition and the free market, but there's also a point at which the common good must be considered if the free market is to remain viable.

Mississippi's educational system is among the lowest-ranked in the country, and as I write this state-funded health care is being gutted. That's why Mississippi is losing out, rich and poor citizens alike.
9:42 PM ::
Amy :: permalink