“South Dakota is not successful because of government,” said Kristi Noem as she took a break from her coast-to-coast Presidential campaign to deliver a budget address in Pierre yesterday. That sentence is accidentally true but poorly worded. Noem would have more clearly expressed the truth if she had inverted her phrasal order:
Because of government, South Dakota is not successful.
And by government, she meant state government. South Dakota state government. Noem’s neglect of her job—traveling across the country to build her own celebrity and campaign coffers, flying home to shut herself up in her private video studio or her mansion sauna—is the apotheosis of South Dakota Republican contempt for the hard work of good government. South Dakota government drives talent away with its antisocial behavior, its rejection of new ideas, its inbred and nepotistic hiring and firing, its refusal to take public health seriously, and its low wages. South Dakota’s labor pool thus dwindles, and South Dakota’s economy does not grow as fast as it could.
Noem dedicated her speech to an opposite, 2024-oriented proposition: that South Dakota is immensely successful, no thanks to President Joe Biden’s government. Yet her speech is filled with exaggerations and inconsistencies that disguise the fact that her own errors and those of her one-party regime have contributed to South Dakota’s chronic economic failures, while the federal government has dutifully subsidized South Dakota’s survival.
Noem claims that South Dakota’s economy is “the strongest economy in America”—a statement flatly laughable to anyone living in California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, each of which crank out more than 3% of America’s gross domestic product and together account for nearly half of the United States’ economy. South Dakota generates 0.26% of U.S. GDP. Sixteen states and the District of Columbia all generate more GDP per capita than South Dakota. The only neighboring state with lower GDP per resident is Montana.
Noem brags about South Dakota creating more jobs than we can fill, which (a) signals the state economy isn’t working very well when it can’t attract talent and (b) attempts to take credit for something she won’t acknowledge at the federal level. If executives in chief deserve any credit for job creation, the strongest job creation has taken place under Biden, Clinton, and Carter, while the weakest job creation has taken place under Trump, Bush 1, and Bush 2. And when we measure jobs created at the federal level, we measure jobs actually filled, people actually working. South Dakota’s job openings, the ones still listed but not able to hire anyone, don’t really count as economic success. The alleged influx of new residents doesn’t really boost our economy if those folks are too busy RVing or getting arrested for insurrection to take jobs at the CAFOs and the slaughterhouses and generate actual GDP.
Noem quietly acknowledges her party’s decades of neglect in funding public service, education, and health care when she proposes 6% raises for state workers, school staff and teachers, and healthcare workers. She says we have to boost state spending in those areas because South Dakota’s wages in those areas “are not keeping pace with the private sector or other states.”
Noem attempts to deflect any evidence of economic shortcomings in the “strongest” state economy by saying “but we don’t live in a bubble”—i.e., ascribing any trouble to outside forces like Joe Biden and inflation. In other words, she wants us to think in a bubble: Noem gets to define success in her own little bubble of slogans, insulated from any actual data or history, where good things happen exclusively in South Dakota because of Noem and bad things are never her fault and always to be blamed on outsiders (preferably Democratic outsiders).
(In bonus baloney, Noem justifies her 6% pay hikes by referring to current inflation as “unimaginable” and “horrifically high.” Yet inflation was consistently higher in the 1970s and 1980s under Presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, and Bush 1.)
Because we can’t generate our own wealth, we can’t fund our own state government on our own. Noem, like her whole farming family, has to keep unzipping her bubble to take the federal subsidies that keep South Dakota’s economy and public services afloat. South Dakota would collapse without federal subsidy, but Noem contorts our dependence of the “giant handout” from D.C. into fiscally responsible virtue:
There’s another kind of revenue that’s coming into South Dakota this year. And it’s not revenue in the traditional sense — it’s a giant handout from Washington, D.C.
That money isn’t appearing out of thin air. Those are taxpayer dollars too, and it’s money that is being borrowed from the future — from our children, our grandchildren, and beyond.
I have had people ask me from time to time, “Kristi, why don’t you just give the federal money back? After all, it’s taxpayers’ money.” That was my first thought, too — to refuse the money. But here’s the problem. Giving that money back means that money goes to another state — to California, to New Jersey, maybe Illinois, Michigan, or Minnesota. That money is not going back into South Dakota taxpayers’ pockets. It would be spent somewhere other than South Dakota. The debt would still be incurred by the country, and our people would still suffer the consequences of that spending.
There’s something else about those dollars. The money that has already been spent in Washington, DC was sent to the state with strings attached. They put conditions on how we can spend it and when we can spend it. To the fullest extent that we can, we are going to put those funds to work for our state, to address our state’s most pressing needs, to make fiscally responsible, one-time expenditures that will not grow the government, but that will save our people money in the long run [Gov. Kristi Noem, budget address, Pierre, SD, 2021.12.07].
The core lie in that contortion is “That money is not going back into South Dakota taxpayers’ pockets.” Actually, those federal handouts aren’t going back into South Dakota pockets; they didn’t come from South Dakota pockets in the first place. The federal handouts are dollars generated in those states (North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming…) that are producing more GDP per capita than the national average and thus allow Uncle Sam to redistribute wealth to poorer states like South Dakota that can’t cover the cost of their own roads, bridges, schools, cops, and other basic public goods and services.
South Dakota’s Democratic leaders speak honestly about the benefits of a smart federal government redistributing wealth to keep South Dakota alive:
While Governor Noem might not want to admit it, South Dakota’s budget is seeing a huge boost thanks to President Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). This budget allocates $850 million in ARPA funds and state revenue is up 15 percent as President Biden leads the country through a strong economic recovery.
South Dakota is already seeing the benefits of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal, receiving over $60 million for statewide water project funding. Overall, South Dakota can expect to receive $2.8 billion in infrastructure funds [Randy Seiler, chairman, South Dakota Democratic Party, press release, 2021.12.07].
Because of poor state government, South Dakota is not as successful as it could be. Because of President Joe Biden and the United States federal government, South Dakota will survive. That’s what Kristi Noem meant to say in her budget address.