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Big, Hot, Cheap, and Right: What America Can Learn from the Strange Genius of Texas [Kindle Edition]

Erica Grieder

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Book Description

Texas may well be America’s most controversial state. Evangelicals dominate the halls of power, millions of its people live in poverty, and its death row is the busiest in the country. Skeptical outsiders have found much to be offended by in the state’s politics and attitude. And yet, according to journalist (and Texan) Erica Grieder, the United States has a great deal to learn from Texas.

In Big, Hot, Cheap, and Right, Grieder traces the political history of a state that was always larger than life. From its rowdy beginnings, Texas has combined a long-standing suspicion of government intrusion with a passion for business. Looking to the present, Greider assesses the unique mix of policies on issues like immigration, debt, taxes, regulation, and energy, which together have sparked a bonafide Texas Miracle of job growth. While acknowledging that it still has plenty of twenty-first-century problems to face, she finds in Texas a model of governance whose power has been drastically underestimated. Her book is a fascinating exploration of America’s underrated powerhouse.

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Bryan Burrough, New York Times "Ms. Grieder's is the rare book that takes stock of the Texas model without ridiculing many of its traditions and politicians...This is a good book, and Ms. Grieder's clear, vivid writing makes it downable in a single afternoon... This is a promising debut from a promising young author." The New Yorker "[A] lively and wide-ranging book...Her account is equal parts history, apologia, and reportage, and explains everything from why Rick Perry wasn't really advocating for secession to how the repressiveness of Reconstruction in Texas sowed the seeds of the state's aversion to big government." Wall Street Journal "'Big, Hot, Cheap, and Right' mixes equal parts history, political reporting, back-of-the-envelope economics and cultural commentary. For those who have never enjoyed a plate of Kreuz's barbecue, toured the Alamo or attended the annual Sweetwater Rattlesnake Roundup, Ms. Grieder's thumbnail sketch of Texana will make for an entertaining introduction. But most revealing may be the way she connects the state's current boom with its unique history... a well-timed plea for the rest of the country to wake up and learn from its example." Houston Chronicle "Readable and often amusing... For those of us who didn't grow up here and study Texas history, 'Big, Hot, Cheap, and Right' is a brief but perceptive introduction to the state's colorful past and fascinating characters." San Antonio Express-News "Grieder delves into Texas' motley past, looks with humor and insight at where we are today, and makes some interesting predictions about our future... the depth of research, objectivity and philosophical underpinnings of Grieder's writing make 'Big, Hot, Cheap, and Right' a dang good read for native Texans, and for those of us who got here as fast as we could." Austin American-Statesman "Pacey, colorful, humorous and cutting... The book is a commendable achievement. Some people are going to be very annoyed that they didn't write it...Neither apology nor sonnet, the book's treatment of Texas is robustly moderate." Mother Jones "You know that college friend, the big, boisterous, obstinate one who was always up to party, quick to fight, and said the most regrettable things, and embarrassed you--but for some reason you just couldn't drop? Well, if Texas were a person, it would be that guy. In this folksy read, Texas Monthly senior editor Erica Grieder explores her home state and its idiosyncrasies, from its fiercely independent streak to its zany characters to its deep distrust of government. While the 'Texas Model' -- low taxes, low services--isn't perfect, Grieder argues that the state remains an economic powerhouse with low unemployment. And if the rest of the country would quit rolling its eyes, it might just learn a thing or two." National Review "Grieder is...a native of San Antonio, and comes at the question of Texas with an insider's perspective that Collins's jokey, stereotype-obsessed book sorely lacked. She knows enough about the state to argue, convincingly, that the rest of America ignores Texas at its peril...Grieder is among those who see that Texas, for all its faults and contradictions, is not an outlier but a zealous inheritor of the American ideal and a grateful son of the Union, and that its dogged pursuit of prosperity might be blazing a path forward for the rest of the country." Chris Hayes, MSNBC host and author of Twilight of the Elites "Thirty years from now there's a good chance that most of America will look like Texas and somehow, improbably, using some strange dark prose magic, Erica Grieder has managed to convince me that might actually not be so bad. Written with verve and nuance, this is a fascinating, provocative read. If there were a book like this for each state I'd read every one." Bill Bishop, co-author of The Big Sort: Why The Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart "Texas isn't the uninhabitable right wing bully East Coast howlers imagine and it's not the open range paradise described by free market myth-makers. Erica Grieder describes the state as it is -- a place shaped (and misshapen) by its past and by the entirely human characters who live there. She is a sure-footed guide, pointing out what is to be admired and warning when we had best watch our step." Publishers Weekly "Journalist Grieder pens a primer on Texas that is serious and lighthearted in turn. She might as well have referred to the 'strange genesis' of Texas in her subtitle, as she runs through historical highlights and lowlights from the state's beginnings to explain its present. Grieder's account includes notably bizarre episodes, including the 1951 election in which both the governor and the state attorney general ran on both Democratic and Republican tickets, with the Democratic incarnations of each pulling easy victories... Anyone curious about or proud of Texas will find something of interest, as will readers of current politics." Kirkus Reviews "In this brisk and sassy counterweight to recent book-length complaints about Texas, Grieder challenges common prejudices about the state and insists that Texas is a better place than people expect... [Grieder] delivers an extensive, perceptive analysis of the state's politics--how it turned Republican in the 1990s and the prospects for a growing Hispanic population to bring it back into the Democratic column... Due to the fact that Texas is thriving while much of America struggles, it might be wise to consider what Texas is doing right." Texas Observer "An astute observer of this state's contradictions, and she avoids the caricature and cliche that plague so many books about Texas by non-Texans. Her forays into Texas history to explain the state's myriad oddities are useful." American Spectator "A splendid book about the rich history and the social, political, and economic strengths and weaknesses of the Lone Star State, where the essentials of the American Dream are still taken seriously." Weekly Standard "Grieder knocks down many of the liberal complaints about the Texas boom." Fort Worth Star-Telegram "[Grieder] uses a journalist's objective eye to offer a primer on the Lone Star State, from its larger-than-life beginnings to what's right with it today: strong economy, job creator extraordinaire, forward-thinking energy policies (it's not all about the oil), an immigration policy that doesn't alienate Latino voters, and population growth." Geoff Berg, KPFT Houston's "Partisan Gridlock" "A terrific read. If you want to understand anything about Texas--modern Texas or historic Texas--you can't unless you read this book. It is just absolutely terrific." Huntington News "A fascinating exploration of America's underrated powerhouse... Grieder presents the best explanation I've seen of how once reliably Democratic Texas over the past 40 years or so has become an equally reliable GOP stalwart. It's not as simple as most commentators have painted it, and Texan Grieder puts the transition in context." Weekly Standard "What Erica Grieder has succeeded in doing with this book is what few journalists have been able to do: The Texas Monthly editor and one-time Southwest correspondent for the Economist has captured the twin realities of a state that is easy and tempting to mischaracterize. And she avoids the traps that both liberals and conservatives often fall into when evaluating a state with 26 million people, diverse and cosmopolitan cities, and Republican leadership. She also presents a case for why the rest of the nation should pay attention to this state, even if some would prefer to look away...Grieder helps the reader understand how Texas got to be cheap and right by delving into our history. What results is a nuanced read that avoids the temptation to go saccharine about Texas's frontier heritage."

About the Author

Erica Grieder is a senior editor at Texas Monthly. From 2007-2012, she covered Texas as the southwest correspondent for The Economist, to which she still contributes. Her writing has also appeared in the New York Times, the Spectator, the Atlantic, Foreign Policy, and the New Republic. She lives in Austin.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 486 KB
  • Print Length: 304 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs; First Trade Paper Edition edition (9 April 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
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  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #754,804 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.0 out of 5 stars  45 reviews
39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Is Texas The Future? 23 April 2013
By Samuel J. Sharp - Published on
"Big, Hot, Cheap, and Right" is a blend of Texas history and modern politics that details how Texas continues to be so unique among the other 49 states, even after 150 years in the union. The book provides a very balanced look at a complex and undeniably important state. Texas's small government but pro-business ethos is well documented and put into historical perspective. The book is not the scholarly work of a political scientist, but Grieder's journalistic experience makes this a highly readable and informative introduction to the state and its people.

Grieder's book is very similar to Gail Collins' "As Texas Goes." Although Grieder mentions Collins only once, "Big, Hot, Cheap, and Right" often reads like a direct response to Collins' less-informed and much more critical account. Whereas Collins travelled to Texas for interviews and bemusedly wrote about the state as though it were a carnival freak show, Grieder is a longtime Texas journalist who takes her subject seriously. She does not paper over Texas's faults or eccentricities, but she does succeed in showing that despite its obvious problems, "Texas isn't really as horrible as everyone thinks."

Grieder too often accentuates her casual writing style with unnecessary jokes, but her depth of research and honesty more than make up for any style flaws. Due to Texas's size, demographics, and economic growth, learning about Texas is in many ways learning about America's future, and this book is a great place to start.
36 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The myths and realities of "America's America" 28 April 2013
By Alan F. Sewell - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I found this to be a worthwhile book about Texas because:

A) It's a serious, in-depth study of Texas that also happens to be witty, funny in places, and easy to read.

B) It strikes the right balance in discerning Texas' realities from its mythologies. Like most other things that seem to be larger than life, the State of Texas consists of a core reality that has been embellished by a layered-on mythology. Author Erica Grieder separates the core reality from the embellishments of exaggeration and selective recall.

C) Grieder also takes a fair and balanced view of explaining how much of Texas' storied growth is genuine. Liberals, who tend to be critical of Texas' low tax and small government orientation, often seek to debunk the "Texas Miracle." They often seek to portray the state's job and population growth as resulting from the immigration of impoverished Mexicans and poor Americans from other states who are desperate to work at minimum wage jobs in "low tech" or "dirty" industries like ranching and oil drilling. They often portray the state as a sort of a gigantic trailer park filled with poverty-stricken, welfare-receiving, crime-ridden populations of mal-educated Whites and poor Hispanics. There are of course plenty of people like that in Texas, just as there are in every other state, but how true to real-life proportions IS the Liberal critique?

Grieder begins by making a point that I've picked up on during my 45 years of working off-and-on and visiting Texas --- that Texas is "America's America."

America sees itself as the "New World" where liberty-seeking and opportunity-seeking immigrants from other countries can prosper to their utmost potential. Texas sees itself as the "New America" where opportunity-seeking Americans from other states can come to fulfill themselves to THEIR utmost potential.

That aspect of the Texan love of freedom and opportunities needs no embellishment. At the Alamo Texans not only SAID "give me liberty or give me death!" but proved that they MEANT it by dying to the last man rather than submitting to the tyrant Santa Anna. One senses that that tradition of uncompromising Texas libertarianism continues to this day, except today the "enemy" is the faceless bureaucracy in Washington D.C. instead of the Dictator Santa Anna in Mexico City.

Another aspect that needs no embellishment is the Texan work ethic. Part of the legendary productivity of Texas business has to be due to the willingness of people to work hard and take risks. Perhaps another part is the belief among Texans that they share a common destiny that depends on everybody pulling his/her weight. Whites, Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, native-born Texans, and Yankee and foreign-born transplants all seem to work harmoniously. Despite their image of being highly individualistic "wildcat" oil drillers, Texans actually seem to thrive on teamwork.

Maybe that's a holdover from frontier days when all classes worked together building the stockades. Even today the rich, middle class, and less well off Texans socialize and work together in harmony more than anywhere else. There seems to be less class stratification and "old money snobbery" that sometimes causes the business establishment in older communities back East to try to ignore, boycott, and suppress upstart businesses. Thus, Texas is an entrepreneurs' dream.

And there's no question that people who live in Texas like it. I've known many transplanted Texans who were born in the Northern USA, England, and Canada. Not a single one of them would ever leave Texas to go back to their old homes. This is all the more puzzling because Texas is not especially rich in natural beauty or climate. The beaches are mostly the muddy, swampy effluent that washes in from the Mississippi River Delta. The big cities are urban sprawl over pine forests, swamps, and featureless prairies. The small towns have their fair share of shacks and trailer parks. The climate in most of the state is hotter than ideal. Nevertheless, there is no question but that Texans --- whether born there or transplanted --- LOVE it.

So there IS something special about the reality of what makes Texas tick that goes beyond mere legend and hype. Erica Grieder gets to the root of some of the specifics:

* A culture created by opportunity-seeking individuals. Texans want to know where you're going, not where you came from. Thus, the banks may be more inclined to loan money to startup companies, and the established "old money" business networks more willing to help startup companies grow by welcoming their "new money" entrepreneurs into the social circles where business is done.

* A relatively small state government. Texas, though huge in population, is governed like a rural state that has a few cities sitting on top of the farms and ranches. There is no state income tax. There is no heavy tax on corporate profits, but a more sensible light levy on gross receipts. In contrast, the older, more urbanized states in the Northeast are governed like cities that happen to have a few farms in between. Taxes are high to support the big-government bureaucracies that manage the police and social services that people in highly urbanized areas expect. In Texas small government means lower taxes, so that businesses that are able to relocate out of states with higher taxes will boost their profits and pass more of them on to the owners at a lower tax rate.

* Smart government. Although Texas' government may be smallish, it seems to be effective. For example, Texas regulated mortgage lending practices more stringently than most other states, thereby avoiding the worst of the financial implosion that left the economies of other high-growth states in ruins. Texas had previously suffered these economic meltdowns during the bust-ends of the volatile oil business, so its governing officials knew better than to take the leash off the banks in the 2000s. Grieder lists other examples of how Texas' state government has acted wisely in the past and present.

* The presence of oil and the ability to recycle oil wealth into diversified industries. Mineral wealth by itself does not automatically translate into personal wealth. Extracting mineral wealth is a capital-intensive industry. The coal and iron ore mining owners from New York, Chicago, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh made fortunes from their mines in Appalachia and the Upper Midwest. The poorly-paid miners lived in shacks. Texas was able to keep the outside capitalists from coming in and buying up the oil producing lands and thereby extracting their wealth to build corporate palaces in New York and Chicago. The oil wealth stayed in Texas and was recycled by Texas banks into diversified local industries in finance, agribusiness, and technology. Oil wealth thus built a diversified local economy that stayed in Texas.

Grieder thus satisfactorily explains how Texas has been blessed with a plethora of natural resources (oil, fertile land, uranium) and a favorable history of attracting the most opportunity-seeking people to settle in the state to develop those resources. But its business community and government have also acted wisely to keep the wealth in the state. Their pro-business attitudes have attracted new high tech businesses into the state to complement their old oil, land, and cattle economy.

Grieder makes it clear that Texas, like any other entity with 26,000,000 people, is going to be full of contradictions. Houston has its share of "good old boys" who work the oil rigs and cattle ranches. There are plenty of Bible-thumping evangelicals. These are said to be one of the most politically conservative constituencies in the country. But Houston also has a history of electing socially liberal mayors, including its current out-of-the-closet lesbian. Texans as alleged "Neanderthal Conservatives" appear to be exceedingly tolerant! Of course the truth is that Texans, like all other human beings, are complex. They are perfectly capable of being laissez-faire economic Conservatives while being socially liberal.

Thus, it can be misleading to take any single data point about Texas or Texans as being typical of the entire state. All things must be understood in their proper proportions.

This book makes these points in its first third. The second third is an entertaining tour of Texas' different regions and peoples and their histories. The final third extrapolates Texas' possible future development. Grieder points out that Texas has passed California as our most reliable trend-setting bellwether. For example, the Hispanic population that is growing in the rest of the U.S. is exploding into dominance in Texas. Will Texas Hispanics follow the state's present conservative and Republican-voting trend, or will they turn Texas into a "Blue" State? Will the Liberal current that is running through much of America at the moment pull Texas with it, or will Texas be the Conservative "anchor" that holds the rest of America to its founding Conservative principles? These questions are explored in a non-partisan way that won't offend anybody's political viewpoint.

For all these reasons the book is a worthwhile read. I'd be willing to bet that even life-long Texans will be educated by it. I, being a non-Texan, was certainly educated about all the things that make Texas what it is, and I was intrigued by the lucid writing to keep reading through to the end!
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An indispensable handbook for non-Texans 29 April 2013
By J. Losinger - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Big, Hot Cheap and Right is a timely and balanced account of what makes Texas Texas. The book combines just the right mix of history, anecdotes and contemporary knowledge about Texas. While she does include some pointed defenses of the state, Grieder spends the majority of the book simply explaining Texas to non-Texans. Grieder expertly weaves the state's history and people together into an honest, lucid narrative about Texas.

This is not a simple brag-book about Texas though. Grieder does not gloss over the state's past and present tribulations. Rather, the book explains how and why Texas is the way it is and why the state's "model" has been so successful relative to other states (and many countries).

America, and the world, should indeed pay attention to and draw lessons from Texas. Ms. Grieder's book is a wonderful place to start.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What you probably didn't know about a big, important state 11 Jun. 2013
By Marty Schladen - Published on
Yes, Texans can be a little tiresome on the topic of their home state and some of their political leaders occasionally do and say silly things. But the state's economy has shown remarkable growth and diversification over the past two decades. And, already a "minority majority" state, its demographic changes foreshadow what's in store the country as a whole.
The "Texas Miracle" might not be the divine gift to the nation that Gov. Rick Perry claims. But neither is it the sham that some liberal pundits would have you believe. That's the thesis of "Big, Hot, Cheap and Right: What America Can Learn From the Strange Genius of Texas."
Erica Grieder, its author, is a senior editor at Texas Monthly Magazine and a former writer for The Economist. She's also a Texan, but this is no defensive screed. She is unsparing in her descriptions of the foibles of her statesmen and women. "Maybe the reason Texas's eccentricities excite so much suspicion is that Texans are still so belligerently proud of their state," Grieder writes. "That's a quirk that has annoyed outsiders since the frontier days."
The book traces Texas history and uses economic and population data - as well as years of reporting - to show that most Texans are not as doctrinaire as their elected officials claim to be. Instead, they come from a tradition in which the government was incapable to doing much for people and now practice a pro-business pragmatism. It's led to growth well beyond the energy sector. "Texans are, ultimately, a pragmatic people," Grieder writes. "Politicians and their excesses can be justified by the economy alone. So maybe it doesn't matter if the state's leaders breathe fire, pray for rain, turn up at Tea Party rallies and spend all day suing the federal government."
Which isn't to say Texas gets everything right. Grieder shows it's a particularly bad place to live if you're poor or if you lack health insurance - shortcomings that will only become more glaring as the state grows in size and importance. She also notes that while Texas prides itself on lax regulation, effective government controls helped nurture the oil industry in the early 20th century and saved the state much pain when its savings and loan industry went into crisis in the 1980s.
To me, it's always fun to read something that convincingly challenges my preconceived notions, which this book did repeatedly. But what I like most is how well written it is. It's brisk, engaging and sassy. Describing a session at Preacher John Hagee's San Antonio megachurch, Grieder wrote that audience members were told how to determine if they were possessed by demons and how to get rid of them if they were. "It sounds pretty heady, but note the emphasis on empowering the worshipper to diagnose and cure demonization. A worthwhile public service, given how few Texans have health insurance."
I recommend "Big, Hot, Cheap and Right" highly.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Texas, Like it or Not 7 May 2013
By Josiah S. Neeley - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I would recommend this quote for two types of people: those who like Texas, and those who don't (people falling into neither category should instead consult a book on introductory logic).

If you like Texas, then you will enjoy this book for the rich descriptions of Texas' history, and the insights into its culture, politics, and ethos.

If you don't like Texas, then reading this book may help to disabuse you of some of the more common negative perceptions about Texas that are out there in America's collective consciousness. Grieder's book manages to achieve this task without the chauvinism that can sometimes accompany Texas boosterism.
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