Gay Marriage as an Economic Development Plan?


The headline in the March 16, 2011 Columbus, Indiana Republic said “Cummins: Gay Marriage Ban Bad for Business.”

Cummins, Inc. which makes engines and emissions control systems and mobile energy units for the Army, and stuff like that, is headquartered in Columbus, Indiana. During state senate hearings over the Indiana state marriage amendment Jill Cook, the vice president of human resources, testified that the marriage amendment would harm Cummins’ business and make the company reluctant to create jobs in Indiana.

“This resolution sends a powerful message that Indiana is not a place that welcomes people of all backgrounds, and it jeopardizes our ability to be competitive in global markets,” Ms. Cook testified.

I hope not under oath, or with her hand on a Bible, because that’s an amazing whopper we are hearing more and more often.

In Rhode Island, newly-elected Gov. Lincoln Chafee actually touted gay marriage as a serious and important part of his economic development plan for Rhode Island.

In his inaugural address he claimed passing gay marriage would do “more for economic growth in our state than any economic-development loan.” He’s taken to running around Providence brandishing a copy of the 2007 book “The Flight of the Creative Class” by Prof. Richard Florida, to try to prove his point.

“In January,” notes Providence Journal columnist Edward Fitzpatrick, “Chafee talked about Florida’s book when he chaired the state Economic Development Corporation Board for the first time. And during the February 6 edition of WJAR’s ‘10 News Conference,’ Chafee cited the book in making the case for legalizing same-sex marriage . . .”

On “10 News Conference,” Jim Taricani noted that in his inaugural speech, Chafee said, “Mark my words, those two actions will do more for economic growth in our state than any economic development loan.”

Taricani asked, “Do you have a factual basis for saying that? Has that been the case in other states?”

“Sure,” Chafee said. “Look at Silicon Valley. Look at Cambridge.” Taricani asked, “What did that have to do with gay marriage or illegal immigration?”

(Particularly since they don’t have gay marriage in Silicon Valley).

But undaunted Chafee persisted in digging his hole: “These are areas where innovation prospers. And there is a book out by Richard Florida people are talking about, and he’s making that exact point.”

Taricani asked, “What?”

“That you can look at economic growth where there is tolerance,” Chafee said.

Clearly a new meme has been launched. The people who launched it must be counting on the idea that nobody will bother to point out how ludicrously unsupported by the facts it is.

Whether or not “tolerance” is associated with economic growth, gay marriage is clearly not.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis publishes yearly and trend data on economic growth, including the year’s increase in personal income per capita.

Take a look at this chart: eight of the top ten states with the fasted growth in per capital personal income from 1999-2009 have state marriage amendments. None have gay marriage.

1999-2009 average annual growth rate of PCPI (Per capita personal income)

State                PCPI increase     Marriage amendment?

Wyoming        5.9%
North Dakota 5.7%                    Yes
Louisiana        5.3%                    Yes
Montana         4.7%                    Yes
Oklahoma       4.6%                   Yes
South Dakota 4.4%                   Yes
Hawaii             4.4%                   Yes
West Virginia  4.3%
Arkansas          4.2%                  Yes
Alaska              4.2%                   Yes

Or consider another potential measure of a state’s business climate: What do CEO’s think? Chief Executive magazine annually surveys 543 CEOs to identify which states are the best and the worst for job growth and business. In 2009, the top five states were: Texas, North Carolina, Florida, Georgia and Tennessee. Four out of five have marriage amendments, and none have gay marriage.

(The worst? California, New York, Michigan, New Jersey, and yes, Massachusetts.)

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce also compiles a list of states that are the top "overall growth performers" a measure which combines job growth rate since 2000, and since 2007, gross state product (GSP), real GSP growth since 2000, GSO per job 2008, and growth in GSP per job. The top five states in overall growth performance (in descending order): North Dakota, Virginia, South Dakota, Maryland and Wyoming.  The top three all have state marriage amendments, none have gay marriage (Indeed the Maryland legislature in a surprise move rejected a gay marriage bill this month after a powerful public outpouring of objections, including from black churches).

Perhaps my favorite data point comes from this same recent U.S. Chamber of Commerce survey (“Enterprising States”) which includes a ranking for what it called “middle-class job growth.” These are presumably the good jobs that the creative class seeks or fosters or whatever.

What are the top five states for growing middle-class jobs between 2002 and 2009? Utah, Wyoming, Nevada, Hawaii and Texas.

True of these five states one—Wyoming—does not have a marriage amendment—yet. It almost passed one, this year however. If it did, perhaps its middle class job growth will come plunging to a halt, but somehow I doubt it.

The tiny number of liberal northeastern states that have embraced gay marriage tend to have high per capita incomes, because they are much older, supporting fewer children, and much whiter, and better educated than average. They are older in part because with so little job growth, young adults with families move elsewhere, most likely to a southern state with a marriage amendment that enjoys more robust economic growth.

Why would a representative from Cummins, Inc. make such a ludicrous claim that we would say misleads the public, if it were not for the fact the public finds it ludicrous too? We do not know, we say, shaking our heads in amazement.

But a few days ago Cummins’s CEO Tim Solso was appointed to Pres. Obama's Presidential Management Advisory Board.

A bit of behind the scenes back-scratching?

We’ll never know for sure.

One thing we do know for sure: if gay marriage is a big part of your governor’s or your business leaders’ idea of an economic development plan, your state is in trouble.

[For a printable version of this article, click here.]