Not Quite Equal

Yglesias raises a very valid, fairly obvious point:

She’s the governor of Alaska. Alaska has a lot of oil and gas drilling. The state basically depends for its revenue on energy resource extraction and that’s the mainstay of the Alaska economy. So she no doubt knows all about various aspects of the energy sector that a governor of Oregon or Indiana would never worry about. But this all depends on a very curious understanding of what “the energy issue” is. For most of the world, the current situation of high and rising energy prices is problematic — a big drag on the economy. But it’s not bad everywhere. It’s a cliché at this point to observe that the leaders of states like Iran, Russia, and Venezuela are sitting pretty at the moment. But this principle doesn’t exclusively apply to “bad guy” dictatorships. Business is booming in the pro-American Gulf monarchies. And also in Alaska! What for most of the world is the “problem” of sky-high energy prices is the solution for places like Alaska and Russia that don’t have real economies but are seeing prosperity anyway thanks to skyrocketing oil and gas prices.

Looked at in that light, it’s not at all clear why you’d regard an Alaska politician as expert in “the” energy crisis. Alaska politicians never worry that energy may be getting too expensive and think about how to respond. They worry that energy might get too cheap!

On the broader point, this underscores what should be a fundamental distinction, yet one that no one has thus far cared to point out; not all governorships are created equally. Yes there’s been some pointing to the fact that Alaska has a very small population, and there’s some fairness to that. Obviously the chief exectuvie of a large, diverse state with complex economies, budgets, bureaucracies, and divergent interests is going to be in a better position to transition to the national level more easily than the governor of a small, largely hemogenous state like Alaska, but the real point is that Alaska is just fundamentally different than the rest of the country, and we can’t reasonably expect Alaskan politicians to have spent their careers thinking about what’s good for everyone else, because what’s good for the rest of the country is bad for Alaska.

Alaska’ entire economy is built around two things; federal pork and hydrocarbon energy prices. So what’s good for Alaska, high energy prices and more federal money for roads and bridges, is downright bad for the rest of the country. At the risk of sounding biased against certain areas, it seems worth asking whether we would really want to take a politician who has built their career necesarily pursuing policy ends that are bad for people in 45+ states and make them Vice-President of the entire country. Maybe freed from their constituencies and the needs of their locale they’ll indeed balk at the policies and politics that have sustained them, but it seems rather unlikely. And this is especially true for Gov. Palin, whose “expertise” on energy is pretty clearly in reciting the generic talking points of the maximum drilling crowd. And that makes sense. Obviously Gov. Palin would push for more drilling in ANWR and other parts of Alaska, because that means more money for the Alaskan government that can then be “rebated” to Alaskans for the purpose of keeping Gov. Palin’s approval rating high. And it’s not like they need the money anyway, Sen. Stevens and Congressman Young will just get the rest of the country to foot the bill for Alaska’s infrastructure needs.

A lot of attention has been paid to the corrupt nature of Alaskan politics, but I’ve seen less attention paid to the parasitic nature of Alaska itself on this country. Whatever other virtues she may have, governing this particular state in such a way as to not only embrace, but further this method of business is itself enough to disqualify her to my mind.