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The Big Book

Can other states learn from the "economic genius" of Texas?

Kai Ryssdal Apr 18, 2013
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There’s a lot the rest of America needs to understand about the Texas economy says Erica Grieder, author of “Big, Hot, Cheap and Right: What America Can Learn from the Strange Genius of Texas.”

It’s a big claim, “but I think we are big enough to support it,” she jokes.

Grieder is a senior editor at Texas Monthly. She says the state’s success stems from their staunch support of business. “It’s a model that emphasizes growth.”

It may seem simple, but many outside of Texas don’t understand how much the state supports business through subsidies and incentives.

“If you’re talking about an issue in Texas, any issue — it could be totally unrelated or seemingly unrelated to the economy, Texans always put it in terms of the economy.”

For example, spending on the arts: “Here [in Texas], we’d say, arts contribute $6 billion a year to the economy, therefore, support the arts,” she says.

Grieder acknowledges the challenges that come with the pro-business attitude. The state has a high rate of poverty, but she says that’s always been true, even in the very earliest days of its founding.

“It’s not the case that we’ve driven half the state into poverty while the other half gets rich,” she says. “It’s a state that’s had a high level of poverty and still does.”

That could change in the future, she says, with social investments.

You probably can’t talk about Texas and the economy without talking about oil. “If not for oil, the state wouldn’t have the boost that it had, certainly in the beginning of the century,” she says.

By now, Texas is really about energy — not just oil. They’ve diversified their portfolio with developments in wind energy and shale gas.

It’s not just the oil boom in the early 1900s that laid the groundwork for a pro-business state.

In Texas, “people have always seen business as kind of a friend to their cause.” Infrastructure was built slowly in Texas so it was necessary to turn to external forces — like private enterprise — to do things the government couldn’t do.

Business continues to shape politics in the state. Grieder points to the Republican Party that runs the state.

“I think the Tea Party people would like to cut the budget even further in Texas,” she says, “and the business community at the moment is the one saying, ‘actually, we can’t really gut the schools because then we won’t have any workers to hire.”

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