I really enjoyed “Why Texas Is Our Future,” economist Tyler Cowen’s Time cover story about the Lone Star State becoming the template for America, but I have to wonder if Texas is even the future of Texas, let alone the rest of the country. I’m not saying demographic shifts will completely change its nature–some things are deeply ingrained–but I wonder if the state will always be so red. It may have been better for Time to do a split-cover issue asking if Texas or California will be America’s future. (Though Massachusetts may actually have them both beat.) A few more quick questions and comments about the piece:
- Growing Mexican-American voting power goes unmentioned. It likely won’t help Republicans in that state or nationally in the near future.
- The politicians who favor the type of policies Cowen thinks are the future (low taxes, little or no social safety net) are also usually the same ones with extreme views on social policies. You can’t uncouple the two and far-right stances on reproductive rights and immigration and race and education and child health care may cost them at the ballot box.
- You can’t assume that the influx of new citizens from disparate places to Texas won’t alter its political landscape. New arrivals may initially be attracted by no state income taxes, but they may grow weary of some of its less-appealing side effects.
- It’s hard to see how Texas’ seemingly endless cheap land could apply to most smaller American states. The supply just isn’t there. Zoning-law changes can help somewhat, but you can do just so much with so little.
- Citizens moving to Texas in large numbers is impressive, but many more people just voted against the Texas model in the last Presidential election. And, no, it was not just about the candidates’ personalities.
- On this passage: “The individuals moving up the economic ladder are the ones who’ve responded to this competition by upgrading their skills and efforts. The ones moving down are largely those who have failed or been unable to respond at all.” I know people like Cowen who have been successful for a long time believe stuff like this, but it just isn’t true. There’s a lot more randomness and luck than a statement like this acknowledges.
- It’s certainly not Cowen’s responsibility in predicting the future to skew his opinions to the more humanistic path, but I think he’s way too fatalistic about Americans accepting greater and greater income inequality. His view of the future is pretty chilling and only some of it has to be true. Sure, automation will become more prominent, but we do not have to politically allow our country to become an even more extreme version of haves and have-nots. I don’t think people will forever be satisfied by bread and Kardashians.
Two parts follow: A Cowen excerpt and then a video of comedian Bill Maher extolling the virtues of the California miracle.
Cowen on the Texas model:
“How did Texas do it?
Texas Monthly senior editor Erica Grieder credits the ‘Texas model’ in her recent book, Big, Hot, Cheap, and Right: What America Can Learn From the Strange Genius of Texas. ‘The Texas model basically calls for low taxes and low services,’ she says. ‘In a sense, it’s just a limited-government approach.’ Chief Executive magazine has named Texas the most growth-friendly state in the nation for nine years in a row. The ranking is based on survey results from its CEO readership, who grade the states on the basis of factors such as taxes and regulation, the quality of the workforce and the living environment. Cheap land, cheap labor and low taxes have all clearly contributed to this business-friendly climate. But that’s not the whole story.
‘Certainly since 2008, the beginning of the Great Recession, it’s been the energy boom,’ SMU’s [Bernard] Weinstein says, pointing to the resource boom’s ripple effect throughout the Texas economy. However, he says, the job growth predates the energy boom by a significant margin. ‘A decade ago, before the shale boom, economic growth in Texas was based on IT development,’ Weinstein says. ‘Today most of the job creation, in total numbers, is in business and personal services, from people working in hospitals to lawyers.
Of course, not everyone’s a fan of the Texas model. ‘We are not strong economically because we have low taxes and lax regulation. We are strong economically because of geography and geology,’ says Scott McCown, a former executive director of the Center for Public Policy Priorities who is now a law professor at the University of Texas. ‘We’ve built an economy favoring the wealthy … If that’s the ultimate end result of the Texas model in a democratic society, it will be rejected.’
So will the rest of the country follow Texas’ lead? People are already voting with their feet. The places in the U.S. seeing significant in-migration are largely in relatively inexpensive parts of the Sun Belt. These are, by and large, affordable states with decent records of job creation–often with subpar public services and low taxes. Texas is just the most striking example. But Oklahoma, Colorado, the Carolinas and other parts of the South are benefiting from the same trends–namely that California, New York and the other high-tax, high-cost states are no longer such good deals for much of the U.S.’s middle and lower-middle classes.
The Americans heading to Texas and other cheap-living states are a bit like the mythical cowboys of our past–self-reliant, for better or worse.”
Maher on the California model: