The Southern Way

Nice piece from Mike Lillis at The Washington Independent about the tenuous commitment to free market ideology shown by the union-busting southern conservatives who want the domestic auto industry to die, in order to benefit Dixie-built cars from foreign-owned firms:

“We don’t think it is the role of government to intervene,” Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) told the Fox Business Network last week. “We need to let the market and the laws work the way they are already in place.”

Yet this argument — that the government has no business interfering in free markets — ignores an increasingly frequent tradition among Southern states, which have fronted billions in local taxpayer dollars in the past two decades to attract foreign auto plants. Those incentives, arriving in the form of tax breaks, training for new employees and even land, have enticed BMW to South Carolina, Mercedes to Alabama and Nissan to Tennessee. The result of the government subsidies has been the steady emergence of the South as an auto-manufacturing powerhouse. Some are dubbing it the “New Detroit” — a region where real estate is cheap and the labor’s not unionized.

Not coincidentally, these Southern states are represented by the same coalition of GOP senators who led the fight against the recent Detroit bailout proposal. That legislation would have provided $14 billion in emergency bridge loans to General Motors and Chrysler, both of which say they lack the finances to survive the month. Rallying behind the animated opposition of GOP Sens. Bob Corker (Tenn.), Richard Shelby (Ala.), Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and South Carolina’s DeMint, Senate Republicans killed the legislation.


This is, of course, but a small slice of the larger southern politics tradition which has always insisted since the end of the Civil War that cheap labor and a low-tax, low-service, high-inequality social and economic system are the key to prosperity. This approach left the South perennially poorer than the rest of the country, but over the past couple of decades this made-in-dixie failed approach to economic development has come to dominate national policy. Not coincidentally, during this period the United States has begun to fall behind high-wage, high-service, low-inequality northern European countries in terms of average living standards.