Texas Has Prospered In Spite of Social Conservatism, Not Because of It

I am a proud Texan. I grew up in Texas and have lived here for all but a few years of my life. My family has a history here that goes back to the Spanish and Mexican colonial era, so the ebb and flow of political administrations isn’t something that makes me reconsider my Texan identity. Therefore, my normal response when I hear people (sometimes well-meaning, sometimes not) criticizing Texas is usually to try and find a way to defend or at least explain it.

As such, I was interested to see this story, reported by Aneri Pattani in the Texas Tribune. The economic development agency for the State of New York has produced an advertisement that highlights New York’s appreciation for diversity and culture of openness, particularly with regard to LGBT rights, and which critiques other states as being less welcoming. One of the not-so-welcoming states referred to in the ad is Texas. Texas Governor Greg Abbott has responded to the ad via Twitter, stating “It omits how NY led way in taxes, regulations, union abuses, high living costs & how New Yorkers are fleeing to TX”.

This is a nonresponsive and utterly unsatisfactory answer from Governor Abbott. The New York ad talks about human rights, not regulatory policy and taxes. I would agree that those items are of great importance when it comes to fostering a business-friendly environment and I probably have views closer to Governor Abbott’s on such points than many of my fellow Democrats. They aren’t the only issues that matter, however. Culture, legal protections for individuals and quality of life are also big drivers for development and it’s no accident that the parts of Texas where most of the wealth is generated and prosperity is centered are its more socially progressive cities.

Admittedly, there have been some setbacks on this front, such as the defeat of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (largely at the hands of a dishonest campaign). But business leaders in Texas, even those who might otherwise lean Republican, seem to understand that revanchist social conservatism doesn’t work well if you want to encourage educated and tolerant people to move to and stay in your city and state. For example, the Texas Association of Business has come out against certain anti-LGBT legislation and the Greater Houston Partnership (Houston’s chamber of commerce) supported the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance.

I think it’s fair to say that low-tax, market-oriented policies, in other words, economically conservative policies, have helped Texas prosper over the past decade. It’s hard to deny that, though high oil prices didn’t hurt either. That having been said, one wonders if Texas’s reputation as a bastion of a certain sort of intolerant social conservatism hurts it economically in the long run and it’s hard to find evidence that it has ever been helpful. 

I’d like to see Texas continue to succeed and based on what I’ve seen both locally and around the country, it will do so if it embraces the values mentioned in that New York State advertisement. Such values have deep roots here in Texas, despite what many of its current politicians may promote. The Texas of the future is not the Texas that supports anti-LGBT policies and other retrograde ideas that are indefensible on general principle and do nothing to make anyone’s life better. In this one case, it was appropriate for New York to mess with Texas.

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