According to rankings by 24/7 Wall Street, North Dakota is the “best run state” in the nation. Here’s their reasoning:
For the first time, North Dakota ranks as the best run state in the country. In recent years, North Dakota’s oil boom has transformed its economy. Last year, crude oil production rose 35%. As of August, 2012, it was the second-largest oil producer in the country. This was due to the use of hydraulic fracturing in the state’s Bakken shale formation. The oil and gas boom brought jobs to North Dakota, which had the nation’s lowest unemployment rate in 2011 at 3.5%, and economic growth. Between 2010 and 2011, North Dakota’s GDP jumped 7.6%, by far the largest increase in the nation. This growth has also increased home values, which rose a nation-leading 29% between 2006 and 2011. North Dakota and Montana are the only two states that have not reported a budget shortfall since fiscal 2009.
Notice that nowhere in there is any actual government policy credited with North Dakota’s success. There’s no credit for government-run economic development projects. Nothing like that. It’s all oil boom.
I don’t necessarily mean that as a slight for North Dakota’s leaders. I have my gripes about growth in spending in the state, and the preoccupation many of the state’s leaders have with government economic development schemes, and we should be careful about handing out too much credit when an energy boom pumping billions of dollars into the state treasury can cover up a lot of bad policy. But they do deserve some credit for the oil boom. Not because of anything they’ve done – they certainly didn’t put the oil under the ground or develop the processes to drill it, pump it and distribute it – but they had the wisdom to largely stay out of the way of the oil industry.
When it comes to energy, North Dakota’s leaders regulate reluctantly. That’s been key to the state’s success because, as we see with states like California which are sitting on oceans of untapped energy, it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way.
Sometimes, or perhaps most of the time, what government doesn’t do is more important than what the government does.