Texas On My Mind

Two views on Texas and the future.

By coincidence, economists Brad DeLong and Tyler Cowen are both writing about Texas this week. Cowen’s piece is longer — it’s on the cover of Time, and only subscribers can read it, but a summary is available here. DeLong is responding to Erica Grieder’s book on Texas. He argues that Texas has just been lucky. “What the ‘Texas Miracle’ consists of is an enormous boom in population and employment,” he writes, driven by an abundance of land and fossil fuel.

Meanwhile, Cowen describes how life in Texas is changing, and suggests that the rest of the country will gradually start to resemble Texas more and more: increasing disparities in wealth, a smaller and weaker middle class, people giving up on their ambitions, people living off nothing in 20-by-20 houses built out of scrap metal in the middle of the desert. Cowen doesn’t seem particularly alarmed by these dystopian predictions, and in any case, he feels that our future will be shaped by inexorable economic forces, so he suggests we simply start preparing for it.

Aren’t there other options?

Both writers suggest that Texas’s laissez-faire approach to residential development have made life better for people there, and that other jurisdictions should relax their zoning codes as well. Yet DeLong suggests that in other respects, the state’s skeletal government serves its citizens poorly. If the state’s economic success has been chiefly a result of its natural resources, then Texans shouldn’t hesitate to do the kinds of things that folks in other states do to improve their lives, using the tools of government where necessary. Perhaps the cost of living would increase, but so would the quality of life — at least for ordinary people.

In any case, Cowen’s predictions seem far too confident. If the country becomes more like Texas, it will be because we so choose.

Max Ehrenfreund

Max Ehrenfreund is a former Monthly intern and a reporter at The Washington Post. Find him on Twitter: @MaxEhrenfreund