Baby, it’s cold outside. Well, finally, after a week, not really. And if you live in places where frozen precipitation and subfreezing temperatures are still part of the natural cycle, global warming or not, you’re thinking “What’s the big freaking deal? A little snow and ice and they go nuts? Like, up in the Panhandle and whatever the Hell they call it, doesn’t it get cold and snow pretty regularly? Yeah, Amarillo (no, not Armadillo, you idiot. Amarillo is Spain-talk for “yellow.” I have no idea why it is and really don’t give a rip.) Well, yeah, they average about 18 inches of snow a year. That’s more than Washington, DC gets, although I know DC doesn’t handle it too well either. But, still, Amarillo is Texas and you never heard of civilization ending there. Ah, don’t say it and I won’t. Nasty.
The year before we left Philadelphia, now, it looks like, maybe for good (cue the D minor blues), it didn’t get above freezing where we lived for a month. On end. I think that was the year of a 20+ inch storm, and me and my trusty Ford Fiesta never got stuck, never ran into anything, and it was plenty hilly. If you had any sense, you learned to drive in snow because there was usually plenty of it– before we decided we could use the atmosphere as a public toilet, and, get this, 5 degrees Fahrenheit ago (I got that Philly average increase from an NBER paper, by the way, and one of the authors works at Penn, so he must he right, Trump’s degree notwithstanding). We lived in an apartment in the Western suburbs that whistled in the wind. You wore Pendleton (I still have mine) and ate lots of homemade soup. Big. Freaking. Deal. Forget about real places like Maine or Minnesota. This was, for God’s sake, Philadelphia. So what is it about Texans and snow? Are they just really wimps at the core? Before you Yankees start nodding up and down and say “I knew it. Them guns that they worship are phallic symbols and the jacked up pickups and Texan monstermobiles are all clearly related to some kind of sexual inadequacy. I KNEW IT.” Well, it’s an entertaining hypothesis, but cheap gasoline and a state that, for the most part, has more wild animals than people in a lot of places is less provocative, but more to the point. Forget Freud. This is what the Econ call factor endowments. It explains a lot, believe me.
But it doesn’t explain what happened here last week, our own St Valentine’s Week massacre. And you may find it entertaining, schadenfreude at the Big-Mouth Braggarts brought low. I get it. When Joe Piscarcik called The Cowboys “Iran’s Team” I loved it too. I can’t go to Dallas without feeling ill, and the first time I went to Dealy Plaza, I broke down and cried. There were witnesses. That I get too. I don’t like the place much, if you couldn’t tell. But that isn’t much of an explanation either.
I got two stories here. One, yes, is climate. And the other is political. And you can make of them what you will. After 30 years here–longer than any other place I’ve lived–this is my best shot at explaining what should be a very teachable moment for Texans, but probably won’t be. Why that is we’ll get to as well. So be patient.
First of all, Amarillo or no, what happened here last week was extremely unusual. One report I read (in, of all place, the Philadelphia Inquirer), claims that last week was the second coldest recorded here since they starting keeping track, the other being, I think, 1983. Now 1983 was, quite literally, another era in Texas. Mark White was Governor (D). Bill Hobby (D) was Lt. Governor. The Texas State Legislature was overwhelmingly Democratic, in both chambers, about 70 percent. Hell, UT was 11-0 in the regular season, with its only loss coming in the Cotton Bowl. Like Archie Bunker said, “Boys were boys and men were men.” Now, you look at Texas today. Abbott and Costello, er, Dan Patrick, are Governor and Lt. Governor. Both are Republican and Abbott is more afraid of Patrick than he is of any Democrat. About 60 percent of the Senate is Republican and more than half the House is too. Instead of Lloyd Bentsen, we got John Cornyn. You starting to get the picture? The population of the state has grown from about 16 million to 29 million, which is not doubling, but it’s getting there. But wait, there’s more. The non-Hispanic (what is Hispanic anyway) white share of the Texas population has been plummeting since 1990, and only placed like California and Nevada have seen equivalent shifts. Minority majority, it’s called.
You’d sort of think this might mean the Texas legislature would have gotten more, not less Democratic, but that hasn’t happened. Indeed, the reverse in true. Look, I know more about the politics of the Republic of Texas in 1840 than I do about Republicans in Texas in 2020, and despite my best attempts to sort of figure out what’s happened within Texas legislative districts (https://lrl.texas.gov/legis/billsearch/searchresults.cfm?subjectList=Redistricting&action=clearAll), all I can really tell, pending a massive research project, is that redistricting within Texas (not just redistricting for Federal Congressional districts) since 1990 has become a free-for-all, and that the Mother of All Redistricting Dudes, Tom DeLay, the dancing pest controller, was, of course, a born and bred Texan down to his Baylor and oil-industry roots. I’m assuming that the Republicans in Texas reacted with the same fear and loathing of demographic change that they have preached on a national level. Besides, whatever happened to Barbara Jordan, Ann Richardson, and them tough-as-nails Democratic women. I think they’re making a comeback, but the intervening generation of Texas male Democrats hasn’t made my heart go pitter pat, you know. You got to give the Republicans credit here. They saw what was coming and worked to block the political implications. So you got a Republican legislature here, and the last thing you think about with these birds is fiscal progressivism. Texas doesn’t have an income tax, never will, and has one of the most regressive tax structures in the country, and that’s a fact. Here the poor pay, and we’ll be damned if we’re gonna let them vote otherwise.
What on Earth does that have to do with snow, ice and Texas’ latest catastrophe? Well, probably nothing and everything. The people now running this place (and their constituents) are some of the most ignorant market fundamentalists that God ever put on Earth. They never saw a tax they liked or a market they didn’t. They think social capital is socialism. And they got an allergy to planning–which we may charitably term high rates of discount. They care not for the future, and it’s the one thing that Jesus Christ said that “Christians” here do seem to take seriously. You can tell people that it’s probably not a bad idea to make even a relative modest expenditure on preventing what is admittedly a low-probability catastrophe. A catastrophe is just that, right. But even given the small chance of Hell freezing over again anytime soon, they ain’t worried about the future and they’re sure as Hell not to pay for anything that could keep natural gas lines or wind turbines from freezing up (Abbott’s pathetic attempt to blame the Green New Deal is so far beneath contempt that I won’t even discuss it. You’re gonna here more about Green New Deals than Commies in the future, in part because Texas Republicans probably find a lot to admire in the old Soviet CP. Good old boys, them Reds. They knew how to control people, dadgumit).
But wait, you say, what about climate change? What about it? Them pointy heads like Bill Nordhaus who have laid out the economics so clearly that even I can follow it keep referring to higher variance distributions of events. In plain English, this means that you can, so to speak, expect the unexpected more than you used to, because the meaning of “normal” has changed. So, for all I know, we may have a week in San Antonio with three snowstorms next February. Or a heat wave with a string of 90+ days. Who knows? That’s what higher variance means. Just like the climate scientists were predicting in the 1990s, when lots of people, myself included, wanted to see some evidence. You want to see real evidence? Come on down y’all. I’ll show you some. My beautiful garden lies in ruins. Forget Covid denial.
If you like cliches, here’s one for you. We got a perfect storm going here. Demographic change, political reaction, climate change, and market fundamentalism (which isn’t particularly good economics, for that matter, but that’ll have to wait for next time). And I hear from my California friends that there are just oodles of Golden Staters itching to go to Texas to avoid them California taxes. Don’t I know it? I see their license plates all the time here. I laugh. Do you really think those people, self-selected as they are, are gonna bring “liberalism,” whatever the Hell that is, to Texas, and turn the place blue? I was one of those refugees 30 years ago, way ahead of the curve, looking for a place that my University of California salary would actually put a roof over our heads, or at least contribute to one. We found it. But we were economic refugees then, not anti-taxers, and Welcome to the Third World. Where the living is cheaper, and the weather if fine. (Sarcasm) Welcome to Texas. That’s Texas, not Taxes. Cute. Is it gonna change soon? I doubt it. The Texas model works for a lot of people, especially at the top, most of the time. The ones at the bottom don’t count anyway, and we’ll try to make sure they either don’t vote, or that their vote doesn’t matter.