Hiroshima 1945? Good guess. The picture shows the town of West, Texas, after the explosion of a chemical warehouse on 17 April 2013. Source is wikicommons.

It takes quite an effort to get yourself convicted of murder in Texas if you are rich and white. The warehouse disaster in the small town of West provides an excellent example of this plutocratic immunity from prosecution. An editorial in The Nation pointed out, in the West disaster at least fifteen people died, compared to four killed by the bomb at the finish line of the Boston Marathon just two days before (http://www.thenation.com/article/174024/terror-texas).

The immediate cause of the West explosion may prove to be sabotage, but it was a disaster awaiting its moment due to the criminal absence of the most basic safety measures by the warehouse owner.. I wrote “criminal neglect”, but this is unfair, because unlike in almost every other state the laws of Texas do not require these safety measures (find verification of the lack of legal control of health and safety in the New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/10/us/after-plant-explosion-texas-remains-wary-of-regulation.html?pagewanted=all).

In other words, murder is legal in Texas, even mass murder, all in pursuit of a “business friendly” environment (which must be one of the most perverse uses of the word “environment”). In what takes the award as the most callous comment of the year, Texas Governor Rick Perry told all who would listen, “Through their elected officials Texans clearly send the message of their comfort with the amount of oversight [of private companies].” Those fifteen people killed in the explosion died in a good cause, facilitating corporate profits. Imagine the Mayor of Boston justifying the marathon deaths with the argument that closer policing would reduce the number of runners.

If 2013 is similar to 2010-11 for industrial accidents (data incomplete for 2012), those fifteen victims of business deregulation will be well less than five percent of the total for the year. The table below reports for 2010-11 on-the-job deaths for the five states with the largest number of such “accidents”. Almost ten percent of all industrial accidents in the United States occurred in unregulated Texas, at a rate of over 40 per million employees. This rate exceeded the US average by 27 percent and the next state in the table, Pennsylvania, by 17 percent. More than any other state, work in Texas is life-threatening.

Fatal Occupational Injuries, total and per million employed

2010-2011

State

Number

Per million

Texas

894

41.4

Pennsylvania

407

35.4

Florida

452

30.7

California

686

24.0

New York

387

22.0

USA

9299

33.3

USA w/o Texas

8405

32.7

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Will Rodgers, the great native American comedian, once said, “a fool and his money are soon elected”, which suits to a “T” Rick Perry and his predatory predecessor George W. Bush. Since the latter’s 1994 defeat of middle-of-the-road Democrat Ann Richards, the George and Rick show carried out a far-right campaign of anti-social policies ranging from making Texas the world leader in executing its citizens (and foreigners on occasion) to a near destruction of the public sector. For those not familiar with the Troglodyte nature of Texas politics, As Goes Texas… by Gail Collins is not bad, though quite an understatement of the venality of the Lone Star Right.

When motivated to justify his anti-social barbarism, Perry proudly tells us that the very policies that facilitated private sector murder in West have generated in Texas over the last few years the fastest employment growth for any state of the Union. While this claim represents an exaggeration — several states have lower unemployment rates and faster unemployment growth — it is true that since 2008 employment growth in Texas has been faster than for any large state (i.e., with a population over five million, see Bureau of Labor Statistics News Release, 17 April 2013, online).

Whether or not the liberation of business from civilized restraint explains the employment growth, the human impact of combining employment growth and deregulation is clear. At the risk of betraying myself as a bleeding heart liberal, I suggest that improving the welfare of households is one important reason to generate jobs. If you accept that, have a closer look at Texas under Rick Perry.

When George W Bush became governor of Texas in 1995, fifteen percent of Texans lived below the national poverty line, with the Texas rate about three percentage points above the average for the fifty states. The numbers were about the same when Perry took possession of the governor’s mansion on 11th between Colorado and Lavaca Streets. At the peak of the economic boom in 2007, the poverty rate rose to 16.3 percent, and in 2011 went up to 19%. Only six states have higher percentages, five of them in the Deep South (Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and New Mexico). Employment growth in Texas has brought increasing impoverishment. This is the “race to the bottom” in real time.

Capitalism in Texas generates the impoverishment of the working class that social reformers and revolutionaries denounced in the 19th century, a capitalism with no holds barred. A powerful ultra-right in the United States seeks to spread that version of capitalism throughout the 50 states and is well on its way to doing so. Simultaneously with the federal government trying and hoping to prevent horrors like the Boston Marathon bombing, deregulation of capital at all levels promises to decriminalize atrocities as occurred in the small Texas town of West. Whether there can be a capitalism for the 99% is open to debate. Capitalism for the 1% in its pure form is alive and well in Texas.

Statistics on poverty from: http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/poverty/histpov/hstpov21.html

John Weeks

John Weeks is Professor Emeritus and Senior Researcher at the Centre for Development Policy and Research, and Research on Money and Finance Group at the School of Oriental & African Studies at the University of London.