Growing Our Way Into the Third World

Rick Perry keeps telling me that I shouldn't worry about dumping all the kids out of school or putting Grandma out of the nursing home. Texas has the nation's fastest-growing economy, he says, so don't sweat it.

What does that mean -- fastest-growing economy?

I took a look around yesterday to see what it means on a global scale. Who has the fastest-growing economies in the world, and are they people we would want to emulate?

Turns out it depends on who you ask, of course, but even at that a certain overall pattern emerges.

There's a website called Economywatch that says the world's top five fastest-growing economies in 2010, in descending order, were Qatar, Botswana, Azerbaijan, Republic of Congo and Angola.

The website is run by an outfit in Singapore called Stanley St. Labs. It bothers me a tad that they don't offer me a list of their directors. So let's keep looking.

The World Bank says that, if you look at the last 31 years, Botswana was the world's fastest-growing economy. South Korea came in second in that period and China third.

Agence France Presse says Singapore was No. 1 in 2010. Newsweek thinks India will surpass China this year as the world's fastest. Everybody seems to agree that sub-Saharan African nations are among the world's most fleet.

So what does it all mean? Well, clearly, one good way to have one of the world's fastest growing economies -- not the only one but a good one -- is to be a dirt-poor Third World dictatorship.

Now I think I'm beginning to understand the basic pitch from guys like Perry here in Texas.

If you don't have one of those pesky public education systems to support, if there is no widely available government-supported health care, if there are no rules to stop you from spewing pollutants, if there are no protections for labor and if wages are survival level or below, if the law can be bought and sold, then ... heck! You can attract a lot of investment.

But here's a question. Do the capitalists who want to build their manufacturing operations in Vietnam want to live there themselves? Will they be sending their own kids to school in Vietnam? Or Texas?

Sure, we can attract a certain kind of investment by turning Texas into a Third World dumping ground. The people making those investments will love it. But how in the hell is it a smart idea for the rest of us? Why wouldn't we prefer a slower-growing economy where we can keep Grandma indoors?

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze