Is Texas about the best fate that a heavily Hispanicized America can hope for? In a future United States that won’t be able to generate all that much per-capita wealth, is Texas‘s system of cheap labor, cheap land, cheap taxes, and cheap government the only plausible future for the economy?
These are questions I’ve kicked around for much of the 21st century. My long-time readers will note that several of my old ideas on affordable family formation and the differences between red states and blue states comprise the backbone of Tyler Cowen’s cover story in the current issue of TIME, “Why Texas Is Our Future.” Cowen’s arguments are not all that well thought out, but his long feature is interesting as an example of the weird, almost Straussian influence I seem to have on what’s considered cutting-edge thought in the mainstream media.
This TIME essay is intended as publicity for the prolific George Mason U. economist’s umpty-umpth book, which he has given the unfortunate Tom Friedmanesque title Average Is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation.
A bright fellow and an exceptionally fast reader, Cowen’s intellectual potential was long held back by his conventional 1970s-style libertarianism. In this decade, however, Cowen’s worldview has come more under my influence, which has ironically helped give him a growing reputation as an important new thinker.
For example, here is Cowen’s halfhearted 2009 attempt to denounce me on his Marginal Revolution blog: “Why Steve Sailer is wrong.” The comments, in which Cowen gets thoroughly drubbed by his readers, are illuminating. Cowen is not stupid, and years of losing arguments with me have taught him valuable lessons.
Thus, in his much-lauded 2011 e-book The Great Stagnation, he argued that American economic growth was slowing because we were running out of three traditional Sailerian blessings or “low-hanging fruit:”
”Smart, uneducated kids”
Cowen’s first point—that America enjoyed cheap land from driving out the Indians—derives from Benjamin Franklin’s largely forgotten 1751 essay “Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind,” in which the first of the Founding Fathers points out that the superiority of the average American’s standard of living over the average European’s is mostly due to Americans enjoying a larger supply of land and a lower supply of labor. Proceeding from this breakthrough insight a half century before Malthus, Franklin went on in his landmark work to call for immigration restriction. (Of course Cowen can’t bring that up.)
I was initially disappointed that Franklin had anticipated much of my 2004 affordable family formation theory by 250 years. But the more I discovered how much Franklin had anticipated my best ideas, the more I realized I ought to be proud to be a Franklinite. After all, who has had more influence on American culture than Old Ben?
The Great Stagnation’s second argument—a technological slowdown outside computers (which I’ve long called “Dude, Where’s My Flying Car?”) is commonplace. Yet Cowen followed my lead in pointing out that the flattening of the curve in the speed of transportation is, in effect, a throttling of the supply of land. The spread of cars and freeways in the postwar era had vastly increased the effective supply of land for homes, making family formation cheap during the famous Baby Boom. If we had flying cars by now, as all the science-fiction books had promised, we would have time to commute to homes hundreds of miles from our jobs. That would effectively increase the supply and thus decrease the price of land for homes.
Cowen’s third point—most poorly educated Americans these days don’t have high enough IQs to benefit much from more education—is of course, Steve Sailer 101.
In my 2011 review in VDARE of The Great Stagnation, I noted:
…Tyler’s thinking, while improving, still needs more sophistication. Cowen focuses a little too much on wages adjusted for inflation. He misses the bigger picture: the relation of income to the true cost of middle class living. The Consumer Price Index tends to systematically underestimate…the cost of sustaining your family into future generations…the ability to marry. In America, the cost of marriage and children is, typically, the price of a house with a yard in a satisfactory school district.
Cowen’s new TIME article on Texas fixes some of the shortcomings in his last book by obsessing over how abundant and thus cheap land is in the Lone Star State:
As an economist and a libertarian, I have become convinced that whether they know it or not, these migrants [from other states to Texas] are being pushed (and pulled) by the major economic forces that are reshaping the American economy as a whole: the hollowing out of the middle class, the increased costs of living in the U.S.‘s established population centers and the resulting search by many Americans for a radically cheaper way to live and do business.…And more crucially, it’s cheaper to live in Texas and cheaper to thrive there too.
Why is California, for instance, so expensive and Texas so cheap? “God wanted California to be expensive,” Kolko says, with its ideal climate and attractive but limited real estate squeezed between the mountains and the ocean. The demand for a piece of the California dream was destined to be expensive, and lawmakers passed strict building codes to add to the bottom line.
Cowen goes on:
Texans might argue that they have some beautiful real estate too, but in the wide-open spaces surrounding the state’s major urban areas, there is no ocean to constrict growth, and there are far fewer stringent rules.
If you want to understand more fully why Texas’s terrain elicits less environmentalist meddling than California’s, see my 2012 Taki’s article “The Politics of Topography.”
Cowen is chipper about America’s Texas-like future, but it sounds thoroughly crummy. Cowen sums up his vision:
In some ways, the new settlements of a Texas-like America could come to resemble trailer parks.…
Still, I guess that’s an improvement over Cowen’s old call for America to enjoy some Rio-style shantytowns.
Actually, Texas isn’t as awful as Cowen makes it sound. When you adjust for the fact that it’s 55.5% nonwhite, it’s doing OK by most measures.
Strikingly, Cowen never mentions in his Texas article any of the following words: “Hispanic,” “Latino,” “Mexican,” “immigrant,” or “white.”
Obviously, it’s hard to say much that is nontrivial about Texas or the future of America without daring to mention demographics. Cowen knows that perfectly well. Yet with Malcolm Gladwell’s popularity finally in decline, there’s a big market niche opening up for happy-talk Frequent Flyer books. Human Resources departments don’t like to invite “controversial “authors to speak at corporate sales conventions, so it’s best not to ever mention race or ethnicity.
Tyler is a lot smarter than Malcolm, so why shouldn’t he be the New Gladwell?
Of course, dumbing himself down to be noncontroversial also means that Cowen has to ignore most of the intriguing political implications of Texas.
Democrats have long tried to attract massive immigration from south of the border so that they can put them on “a path to citizenship” to turn America into a one-party state, Vermont writ large. Yet a central irony for the future of American politics is that these upcoming Democratic voters will be unlikely to generate enough wealth to pay for the expensive Vermont-style policies that liberals crave. Sadly, Vermont policies without an ultra-white Vermont-style population to pay for them tend to lead to Detroit.
The mirror image irony is that successful Republican-ruled states such as Texas, in contrast to economically stultified Vermont, attract so much nonwhite immigration that the Texas GOP is demographically doomed in the long run.
Texas is currently only 45 percent white. At present, Texas remains in Republican hands because of Texans’ remarkable degree of white solidarity: In 2012, for example, Romney won 76 percent of the white vote in Texas. That’s an extraordinary share in a state with a well-educated white population and without a huge black population to rally whites in political self-defense. I suspect that the ancient tradition of Texas chauvinism, braggadocio, and dislike of other Americans gives Texan whites a seemingly non-racial theme to unite around. Yet while Texas nationalism has worked well to intimidate Mexicans from voting, it tends to alienate the rest of the country. So it’s hard to see how Republicans could extend this “Don’t Mess with Texas” attitude nationally.
Thus, the hottest idea that Republicans have come up with in 2013 to deal with their demographic deficit is to prove they aren’t racist by outsourcing their leadership to the Spanish-surnamed Cuban novices Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.
How’s that Cuban putsch working out, anyway?
In the long run, both politically and economically, Texas is in deep trouble. The Houston Chronicle, in an item entitled “It’s Basically Over for Anglos,” cited Rice U. demographer Steve Murdock as noting:
“Last year, non-Hispanic white children made up 33.3 percent of the state’s 4.8 million public school enrollment.…” The state’s future looks bleak assuming the current trend line does not change because education and income levels for Hispanics lag considerably behind Anglos, he said. “It’s a terrible situation that you are in. I am worried,” Murdock said.
Unsurprisingly, Cowen doesn’t mention Murdock’s forecast. As George Orwell noted:
It’s an important faculty to cultivate while reading my stuff.
Seeing stunted versions of my thinking show up on the cover of TIME magazine reminds me that my function has become to serve as the “dark matter” of American intellectual life, both repelling and attracting many of today’s more interesting thinkers.
For example, on the op-ed page of The New York Times, you can routinely find one columnist trying to refute my specific observations as if they were the conventional wisdom, followed by another who does an excellent job of transmuting my writing into a more politically palatable form.
Leo Strauss made popular the notion that important thinkers are devious about what they mean, and I seem to be particularly influential upon those familiar with Strauss’s “hermeneutic argument” about “esoteric writing.”
If you are interested in tracing my Straussian influence, I’m not going to name too many names, but if you want to understand who is in the Washington Metropolitan Area School of Serious Public Intellectuals, just remember the phrase “friends of Reihan Salam.”
It’s funny that I’ve become a Straussian grey eminence since my motto is, “Always tell the truth, because it’s easier to remember.” That I come up with lots of ideas worth borrowing is less because I’m so smart than because I seldom worry about when to apply 1984‘s “protective stupidity” brakes.
To my delight, the other salient of my influence is among comedy writers. Only this year did I get around to finally watching the most honored sitcom of the last decade, and I was pleased to notice how it increasingly drew jokes from the Steveosphere. But that’s a story for another day.
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