Reflections on Texas
By Bryan Caplan
My trip to Texas was a lifetime highlight for me. Some thoughts:
1. I hadn’t flown since March. I passed through the following airports: Dulles, Dallas, Amarillo, Austin, and Charlotte. All of them were half-deserted, except for Charlotte, which was inexplicably packed. Even in Charlotte, however, the level of fear was low. Travelers lined up in pre-COVID fashion unless you made a point of distancing.
2. My trip took me on a horizontally-flipped-J route from Amarillo to San Antonio, then up to Austin. Everywhere I went was visibly less shut-down than northern Virginia. Horrified? Consider this: Given an area’s health stats, you should hope their level of caution to be low! Why? Because it reveals favorable trade-offs. While Texas is hardly winning the COVID race, the state shows that a package of (low caution with moderate COVID) is available. Great news in my book.
3. I spoke to live audiences of 70-80 people in Lubbock and San Angelo, in halls built to accommodate about 1000. Under university rules, audience members had to wear masks, but (unlike at GMU) the speaker may go commando. Efficient!
5. I knew that Texas was growing frenetically, but I was shocked by the speed of expansion in west Texas. When I previously visited Lubbock in 2013, there was a vast vacant lot from the Overton Hotel (across the street from Texas Tech) to the Walmart. Now there’s scarcely an undeveloped lot on this entire half-mile stretch.
6. The rest of west Texas seems full of residential, commercial, and industrial construction as well. You can drive for an hour at 90 miles per hour, then suddenly hit a small metropolis full of construction work.
7. Free-market economics is doing tolerably well at West Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Angelo State, and the University of Texas. It’s hardly dominant, but none of these schools have a typical academic monoculture as they would in the DC-Boston Corridor.
8. I saw near-zero traffic enforcement outside of populated areas, making life a lot more convenient for Texans proverbially stuck in the middle of nowhere.
9. Other than abandoned farm houses, I saw no slums or “bad areas of town” anywhere in Texas. All of the new construction looked solidly “middle-class” or better. Caveat: Austin has multiple tent cities for the homeless, though all the ones I witnessed were out of sight of normal residential areas. The largest tent cities were under Austin’s freeway bridges.
10. “Texas German Country” is only homeopathically German, but the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg is one of the finest war museums I’ve ever visited. Fans of “Deep Roots” theories understandably point to the fact that Japan’s pre-war strengths allowed them to rapidly recover from military defeat. But if Deep Roots matter so much, how did one of the most entrenched militocracies in history become one of the world’s most pacific democracies? Who seriously expects Japanese militarism to revive in the 21st century?
11. Circa 2008, a car service drove me from the Public Choice meetings in San Antonio to speak at South by Southwest in Austin. The seventy-five mile journey went through vast vacant stretches. When I retrod the same route last week, there was scarcely an undeveloped block. You can see wilderness from the highway, but are never out of sight of residential, commercial, or industrial properties – with additional construction well underway.
12. My dear friend Steve Kuhn sponsored a jaw-dropping meet-up at his mountain-view estate. Attendees went around the pool introducing ourselves to the group. Less than half of the guests were originally from Texas. Anyone who said they’d fled California or the Northeast got a spontaneous round of applause.
13. Last spring, Steve Kuhn planned to launch a pro-immigration music festival in Austin. When COVID ruined his idea, he decided to build a permanent pro-immigration venue, featuring an enormous miniature golf course, self-serve brewery and winery, pickleball courts, a vast beer garden, a live-music stage, and much more. The name of Kuhn’s new themepark is: Dreamland. And since Steve does not think small, the facility is nearly complete and will open in November. Steve gave me a surreal advance tour of the facility, which I expect will make the next edition of the Eyewitness Travel Guide USA. Don’t miss the giant blow-up from Open Borders near the end of the minigolf course.
14. The official per-capita GDP of Texas is only slightly above-average for the U.S. On the ground, however, living standards seemed much higher, especially for working- and middle-class residents. In every part of Texas I saw, almost any two-earner couple could instantly afford a three-bedroom house. Nice places outside of Austin were starting at $180k.
15. Lots of Texans I talked to fretted that non-Texan migrants from the rest of the United States were “turning Texas blue.” The “killing the goose that lays the golden eggs” meme came up occasionally: California leftists migrant to Austin for the opportunities, then vote for policies that ultimately make those opportunities dry up and blow away. The true story seems more complicated; my friend Ben Powell pointed out that in the so-called “canary in the coal mine” Beto-Cruz senatorial race, voters born in Texas were actually more Democratic than voters born elsewhere. Check it:
16. Seven years ago, Tyler Cowen published a cover story in Time called “Why Texas Is Our Future.” All of his reasons hold up, but let me add one more. The chief problem with Texas is the great shortage of Texans, especially in the west. As more and more folks move to Texas, this chief problem dies on the vine.
17. Call me crazy but this song is better than Sinatra’s “New York, New York” or Huey Lewis’ “I Love L.A.”