Why did Texas create so many jobs?

Advance warning: this is not a post about Rick Perry!

Matt Yglesias writes:

My view is that Texas’ robust job growth is a consequence of its robust population growth

This is consistent with Paul Krugman’s column yesterday, and also consistent with Matt’s earlier writings praising Texas for not overdoing the zoning.  I agree, but I wonder who should be reassured by this answer.

I’ve read a lot of blog posts lately painting Texas as a low benefit, low Medicaid, not so great system of public education kind of state.  Let’s take this picture and run with it.  People are moving into the state, in fairly large numbers, and that suggests the state is doing something right (again, I’m not suggesting Perry has anything to do with this.)  By the way, Dallas-Fort Worth recently had 35 straight days of 100+ weather and that wasn’t even a record for the region.

I see four options:

1. Hispanics track other Hispanics to some extent, so if Hispanic population is going up, so is the population of Texas.  For sure, but this is by no means the entire population phenomenon.  Nor is New Mexico experiencing a comparably positive mobility effect.

2. Texas gets some policies right, some say low taxes, there is lots of debate here.  Sometimes conservative commentators argue that “being tough on the poor” is in fact good for the poor themselves, given “poor on poor” local externalities.

3. Texas gets right a lower-zoning policy, which leads to cheap rents.

4. People are moving to Texas because fossil fuel prices have been rising.  There’s something to that, but still those prices do not seem to predict employment in Texas, at least not in recent times.

Let’s treat #1 and #4 as exogenous to policy, for the sake of argument dismiss #2 altogether, and thus focus only on #3.  Is this a result progressives should feel happy about?

I am not sure.  There is no chance of Texas’s looser zoning being applied to Fairfax County; for one reason the “Mantua moms” (don’t ask) wouldn’t stand for it.  It’s not even an issue and it doesn’t matter which party is in power.  Those are the same Mantua moms who oversee and enforce one of the nation’s best public school systems.  Now, as a general matter, should the influence of the Mantua moms be stronger or weaker?

Well, we’ve decided to live with the Mantua moms, for better or worse.  The neighborhood is splendid, but boring, and the neighbors do not support good food.  Texas, it seems, doesn’t give nearly as much political power to its equivalent of the Mantua moms, for whatever reason (can anyone tell us why?).  That leads to cheaper land, cheaper housing, and inferior public school systems, not to mention better and cheaper food.  And poor people are voting with their feet to choose it.

I am well aware that marginal migrants do not necessarily reflect the preferences of the infra-marginals.  Still, I am not sure many of us should find this a comforting scenario.

I’m not sure that “don’t choose policies, choose interest groups” counts as a final truth, but it’s an interesting thought experiment to upset the usual ideological applecarts.


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