Sunday, June 16, 2024

California Added Five States To Its Travel Ban. Does This Make Sense? Or Is It All Just Posturing?

The State of California recently updated their guidelines on a state employee travel ban. The travel ban, advanced first in 2016 through AB 1887 to demonstrate the state’s opposition to an ongoing assault on LGBTx protections under the Trump regime, just added five more states (listed below). I thought it’d be interesting to compare this list to the list of states on my “red state policies correlate with red state economies being generally terrible.” If you recall, I ranked all of the states based on how many Fortune 500 companies were based there. I was using the Fortune 500 as a proxy for “conditions that encourage economic growth,” and yes, there are plenty of critiques to be made of this model, but 500 companies vs. 50 states is a large enough sample size that it’s at least an interesting point of comparison.

The full rundown. The column “CD” is a calculation of “Fortune 500 companies per million residents” based on 2019 estimated census numbers (or 2020, where available).

Let me be clear— I don’t know that these travel bans have a huge impact on state budgets. What they do do is set a precedent. California leads the United States on a lot of issues as approximately 12% of the country’s economy. It’s a die-hard blue state and pushes a lot of “progressive” policy. But it also serves as a weird kind of bellwether, because it’s entrenched on a lot of fronts– think urban and suburban NIMBYism or car worship.

California Travel Ban vs. Nat’s List

My previous comparison looked at the concentration of Fortune 500 companies per million residents.

  1. Alabama: 0.
  2. Arkansas (🆕): 1.66.
  3. Florida (🆕): 0.84.
  4. Kansas: 0.68.
  5. Kentucky: 0.22.
  6. Idaho: 1.09.
  7. Iowa: 0.63.
  8. Mississippi: 0.
  9. Montana (🆕): 0.
  10. North Carolina: 1.25.
  11. North Dakota (🆕): 0.
  12. Oklahoma: 1.26.
  13. South Carolina: 0.
  14. South Dakota: 0.
  15. Tennessee: 1.45.
  16. Texas: 1.72.
  17. West Virginia (🆕): 0.

Well, there you have it, right? Excepting the nearly-purple-but-still-pretty-red Iowa and purple-ish North Carolina, the rest of these states are pretty damn red. Even the leading states on this list still have half of the corporate concentration of deep-blue, high-tax states like Massachusetts, Illinois, Rhode Island, and New York.

Regressive Politics Seem Bad For Economic Growth. Can We Prove It?

Where California Leads, Others Reluctantly Follow (Usually)

You’re probably aware that when California does something major, it usually forces the hand of other states to follow suit. As California makes up around 12% of the US population and GDP, it doesn’t usually make sense for a company to try and sell a product customized to Golden State law as opposed to, well, made the same for the other 49 states. We think about well-intentioned-if-not-a-bit-harebrained legislation like Prop 65, which means that virtually everything is labeled as containing potentially carcinogenic chemicals. Annoying? Yes. Thought-provoking? Maybe! Either way, damn near everything these days has a Prop 65 label on it.

More practically, though, other things on this list of California-approved products include CARB-compliant building materials. When you’re buying CARB-compliant composites, for example, you’re avoiding things like formaldehyde and certain limits of VOCs. Both of these are really not good for you. Those radical liberals! Preventing offgassing of carcinogenic formaldehyde and volatile organic compounds! And, of course, there are occasional exceptions in the cases of things that are sold only in California as a matter of state law– an example might be cars that run on compressed fossil gas or even hydrogen, for example, given the infrastructure available for it.

The Ban– So What?

So, look at the below chart. Texas is ranked #13 nationwide, and it’s lagging way behind 11 blue states. California has nearly a quarter million state employees. While probably only a few thousand are ever doing interstate travel, if even that, it’s gesturally significant– at least the state assembly thinks so- that the state ban travel to these states. This is probably most significant in the case of states like Texas or Florida, which are perpetual favorite destinations for things like conferences owing to the well-developed tourist infrastructure. It’s also a bummer for progressive cities– or cities with at least strong, vocal, and progressive elements, like Houston, Miami, or Tampa.

What about the weird outliers? For example, what can we learn from Ohio? Jury is out on that for now, but I’ll have some thoughts at some point soon.

In the meantime, I’m not really sure what the specific takeaway should be here. Does this work? It’s not clear. But it should give governors pause before gleefully signing these godawful pieces of legislation whose sole purposes are to, say, penalize, demonize, or exclude trans people, people of color, lower-income people, or what have you. The data show that corporations are already loath to relocate to your states, or that your state is for whatever reason unable to grow such corporations at home, one. Might be, ya know, worth revisiting some of your policy. Correlation isn’t causality. But come on, people!

The losers are, once again, and perhaps not coincidentally, all deep red states that have a super low concentration of corporate power.

Nat M. Zorach

Nat M. Zorach, AICP, MBA, is a city planner and energy professional based in Detroit, where he writes about infrastructure, sustainability, tech, and more. A native of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, he attended Grinnell College in Iowa, the Kogod School of Business at American University, the POCACITO transatlantic program, the SISE program at the University of Illinois Chicago, and he is also a StartingBloc Social Innovation Fellow. He enjoys long walks through historic, disinvested Rust Belt neighborhoods at sunset. (Nat's views and opinions are his own and do not represent those of his employer).

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