Saturday, December 8, 2018

Welcome to the Hermit State

During the filming of Mary Poppins, there was a scene where an animatronic robin perched on Julie Andrew’s finger and whistled a song.  When it was recorded, the professional whistler sounded too good (too much like a musical instrument), so Julie Andrews volunteered to whistle the part of the robin in addition to singing her own part.  When Irwin Kostal, the conductor and music supervisor mentioned the scene to his wife, she informed him that male robins do not sing.

The next morning, Kostal went to Walt Disney and confessed that the scene might have to be redone to correct the technical inconsistency.  When he had finished explaining, Disney smiled and put the matter to rest.

"In Disney movies," he said.  "All birds sing."

This story comes to mind frequently while reading politicians’ loud promises about how to fix the problems in New Mexico.  There is a thin line between seeing the world as you want to see it and being stubbornly blind to the obvious.  Walt Disney had vision, but New Mexico politicians live in a fantasy world without the necessary amusement rides.

Hell, we even call New Mexico the "Land of Enchantment".  We've been treating the state like it was our own little amusement park.

Well, to be fair, the state capitol building does qualify as a funhouse, and the clowns that play there did build the state a train ride, but only the people in the northern half of the state get to ride it.  At the rate the train is losing money, I doubt we will ever get around to constructing a state-run rollercoaster.

That we have problems is not in dispute.  New Mexico has the second highest unemployment rate in the nation, behind Alaska.  While there has been a little improvement in the last year, part of the improvement is due to the number of working age adults, especially skilled workers, that left New Mexico because there are better paying jobs in all of the surrounding states.  In essence, we don't have more people working, we have a higher percentage of those remaining workers employed.

Businesses are not coming to the state.  Last night, this was made painfully obvious to me when I drove home from El Paso.  While I drove for miles past new commercial buildings--some still under construction--it seemed like I was constantly discovering an establishment I had never noticed before (including more than one business that had relocated from Southern New Mexico).  But, the stream of new businesses pretty well stopped at the state line.

Suddenly, the night sky was dark, illuminated only by the oncoming headlights.  There was not a business to be seen anywhere.  Suddenly, I remembered the satellite photos of North Korea at night.  You’ve probably seen this, you can easily make out the Seoul and border separating a vibrant economy and the empty void of what has been ridiculed as the hermit kingdom.  

Once you travel north across that state line, there are almost no businesses to see.  It is not the lack of population that concerns me, what bothers me is that the population we have is underemployed.  There are quite simply, no real jobs here.

The largest employers in the state are all government entities.  The largest non-government business n the state is Wal-Mart.  One out of every nine people in the state who have jobs, work at a restaurant.  When the list of the largest employers in the state include such entries as the Boy Scouts, the Post Office, and K-Mart, your state has a problem.

Though the population of the state has remained almost the same, over the last decade more people are living in poverty and far more people are on food stamps.

During the same period, the middle class has shrunk, as have wages and--worst of all, the state has tens of thousands of fewer jobs.

Thought the recession has ended in most of the country, in almost every economic indicator, New Mexico is worse off than it was in 2007. 

And there is not indication the situation will improve, since our economy is closely linked to the price of oil, the price of which is steadily dropping.  Suddenly, the US is producing so much petroleum that for the first time in 75 years, we were a net exporter.  This is great news for the country, but the New Mexico economy is joined at the hip to the price of oil.

Like everyone else in the state, I have a list of things that I would like to see the state change.  This is also a list of things I am fairly certain the state legislature will never do.  They have their own list of ideas, and as idiotic as they are, they are going to implement them.  (Just as soon as they finish the new roller coaster).

But, I do have one small suggestion for the state.  Before you actually implement any of those new ideas, before Albuquerque gets a Splash Mountain ride, ask yourself—why is it that the economy of El Paso is doing better than New Mexico?

Whether it is high speed internet, early childhood education, vocational training, raising the minimum wage, stronger union laws or any of the other assorted causes of economic stagnation that our elected officials are talking about…. why doesn’t it seem to affect El Paso?

Students in El Paso are not any better trained or experienced than ours in Southern New Mexico.  The internet speed is about the same.  We have the same utility companies, the same pool of workers, and the same potential markets.  What are the differences?

I checked:  El Paso doesn’t have a Dumbo Ride, either.

1 comment:

  1. What is sad is that with modern technology and high speed shipping you can start all kind of businesses almost anywhere. There's some beautiful country in New Mexico, though I admit that the drive home from Albuquerque to Portales through the desert was pretty grim the night we made it. After a while I started passing under bridges that weren't there and trees started getting up and walking across the road in front of me. Finally when I drove past a troop of jackrabbits standing at attention alongside both sides of the road, I finally pulled over and took a little nap. It was waaaay too quiet. You could hear the stars breathing. It was eerie.

    That level of silence is something that city people should come to New Mexico to experience. If I could set up a desert cruise for city folks with anxiety disorders, I would run them out to the desert and let them hear all that silence. It kind of resets your brain - makes you appreciate people just a little. It's as near a trip to the moon as most of us will ever get. Maybe they could run the roller coaster out there and then stop it at the top of a major drop in the middle of the night and let people sit there and freak out at all the silence.