34 of 39 people found the following review helpful
Alan F. Sewell
- Published on Amazon.com
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!