I just returned from my first trip to the Lone Star State, after hearing a lecture by the sweetly-libertarian junior justice on the Texas supreme court. Needless to say I am enchanted—and looking to spend a year or so in Austin if I get the chance.
The red-blue contrast is often overdrawn. But it’s a sensible way to understand Obama’s summer struggles. On health care, energy, taxes and spending, he’s pushing a blue-state agenda during a recession that’s exposed some of the blue-state model’s weaknesses, and some of the red-state model’s strengths. . . .
Texas looks like a model citizen. The Lone Star kept growing well after the country had dipped into recession. Its unemployment rate and foreclosure rate are both well below the national average. It’s one of only six states that didn’t run budget deficits in 2009.
Meanwhile, California, long a paradise for regulators and public-sector unions, has become a fiscal disaster area. And it isn’t the only dark blue basket case. Eight states had unemployment over 11 percent in June; seven went for Barack Obama last November. Fourteen states are facing 2010 budget gaps that exceed 20 percent of their G.D.P.; only two went for John McCain. (Strikingly, they’re McCain’s own Arizona and Sarah Palin’s Alaska.) Of the nine states that have raised taxes this year, closing deficits at the expense of growth, almost all are liberal bastions.
The urban scholar Joel Kotkin has called this recession a blue-state “meltdown.”
National Review ran a similar story, tracking soaring U-Haul prices from San Francisco to Houston against plummeting prices for the reverse trip. The Texas legislature is constitutionally permitted to meet a maximum of 143 days per year, and meets for session only once every two years. With our feet we vote for small, federalist government with an eye to the individual, but with our ballots we vote for a huge juggernaut with hands in every pocket.
The Economist looks to business practices to explain the trend reversal. Silicon Valley long enjoyed its “sexier” position, but that sexy meddling has grown bloated.
By contrast, Texas was the best state in that poll. It has coped well with the recession, with an unemployment rate two points below the national average and one of the lowest rates of housing repossession. In part this is because Texan banks, hard hit in the last property bust, did not overexpand this time . . . . Texas also clearly offers a different model, based on small government. It has no state capital-gains or income tax, and a business-friendly and immigrant-tolerant attitude. It is home to more Fortune 500 companies than any other state—64 compared with California’s 51 and New York’s 56. And as happens to fashionable places, some erstwhile weaknesses now seem strengths (flat, ugly countryside makes it easier for Dallas-Fort Worth to expand than mountain-and-sea-locked LA), while old conservative stereotypes are being questioned: two leading contenders to be Houston’s next mayor are a black man and a white lesbian.
Obviously politics, the market, and just about everything moves in cycles. Texas thrives on small business expansion and hearty big business. But the state does little for infrastructure and education. California throws money into education, but also floods the desert to farm rice more properly found in swampy paddies. Neither model spells long-term growth and sustained success. Both do, however, contribute valuable ideas—and lessons, from their past and present stumbles—that should inform national policy moving forward.
This just makes me want to live in Texas. But the larger question is: Why do we vote one way with our feet and another with our heads?