Monday, March 30, 2009

Texas on the brink?

Terry sent me this link to a short essay and some stats titled "Texas on the Brink". I thought I'd share my response with you:

Although I don't really think "we're on the brink" (most of our economic growth stats outpace the nation), I do partially agree with it, with some caveats. Our air pollution is getting better/lower every year, although maybe not as fast as some would like. We have such a vibrant economy, and are a border state, so we attract a lot of uneducated immigrants (both domestic and international) without health insurance looking for work. The opportunities are better for them here, and they're better off here. So we're never going to look great on those sorts of stats compared to most other states. It's like Europe: you can severely limit immigration and reduce opportunities, but make your stats look better as you exclude certain disadvantaged groups from your population, but is the world any better off by keeping those groups away from opportunities? Countries, states and cities seem to play these games of "hot potato" with disadvantaged populations, trying to push/keep them over the border into other jurisdictions to make their own stats look better (and reduce their welfare costs), but it actually makes the world as a whole worse off (for the same reasons protectionism makes everybody worse off vs. free trade). Texas has always pretty much welcomed anybody seeking opportunity and willing to work hard, but in exchange we don't offer much of a welfare state apparatus. That's our deal. The states that are more welfare-oriented tend to have fewer opportunities, play the "hot potato" game by doing things like restricting housing to make it unaffordable, or, like California, simply start to go broke.

And if, as those stats imply, Texas is such a bad place, why are we attracting waves of both domestic and international migrants? Clearly they see value not reflected in those stats. (37th most 'livable' state?! Give me a break.)

All that said, we need to make good investments in both lower and higher education. But I think a lot of what is needed are better systems rather than more money, like increased charter school competition and forcing universities to stress teaching and graduation rates as much as research.

A final note: my apologies to email subscribers. Last week, the Monday night post didn't end up getting emailed out until Thursday night, right before that night's post, so you got two in one night. I forgot to moderate the message on Google Groups Monday night to send it out. Sorry about the mix up.

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At 9:16 PM, March 30, 2009, Blogger Brian Shelley said...

Yes, it's like saying "If doctors really help people why are their hospitals full of sick people?"

The marginal benefit to moving is far greater for the poor to come here than the rich. If I'm a millionaire, I don't really care if my $5 million condo in Manhattan isn't quite as posh as a River Oaks mansion. But, if I can move from a 300 sq. ft. studio to a 4 bedroom home, it's huge.

At 7:57 AM, March 31, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I haven't read the essay yet, only your comments. But I get sick of people thinking that the way we improve schools is by giving them more money. Sure the money doesn't hurt, but the rest of the world and America didn't get to where we are now because the school facilities were better than anyone elses. The norm I'm sure were schools that would rattle when a train went by. What we need to invest in is our parents, but who does that start with? After the parents, we train the teachers better. There will always be teachers who just do it for the pay check (and in my mind that's not necessarily bad as long as they still work hard) but we can still make them good teachers.

At 10:34 AM, March 31, 2009, Blogger Michael said...

Info on each state's livability ranking can be found here on page 5. Texas moved from 39 in 2007 to 37 in 2008 - so we are getting better even by this metric.

This is a description of how it was calculated:
"The 2008 award is based on 44 factors ranging from median household income to
crime rate, sunny days to infant mortality rate. The factors used for this year’s award are the same as those used last year.
To determine a state’s “livability
rating” (see page five for state-by-state scores) the 44 categories were divided into two groups: those that are “negative” for
which a high ranking would be considered bad for a state, and those that are positive for which a high ranking would be considered
good for a state. Since a high livability rating is best, the rankings for the “positive factors”
were inverted. Thus the state with the highest median income (ranking 1st in our book) would rank 50th for this award.
Once these calculations were made, each state’s rankings for the 44 categories were averaged. All factors were given equal
Unique among the various rankings of states, our Most Livable State Award does not focus on any one category of data.
Instead it takes into account a broad range of economic, educational, health-oriented,
public safety, and environmental statistics."

I think we still attract migrants because people can control for a lot of these factors on an individual basis - rankings on a statewide basis are a bit useless - for instance Texas may have crime or education issues, but if you are coming from California you can settle in a low crime neighborhood with a great school district. And in reality all 44 factors are NOT equal - affordability in Texas plays an important role in being able to control the negative factors. That, and international migrants from Mexico and elsewhere are presumably coming from places where "livability" is far worse than any US state when judged by these broad measures of crime / pollution / education / etc, so a move to anywhere in the US is a good thing.

At 3:20 PM, March 31, 2009, Blogger palvar said...

That is a pretty confusing description that they provide. Why is the highest median income ranked last?

At 3:41 PM, March 31, 2009, Blogger Michael said...

>>Why is the highest median income ranked last?

In their system, 50 is the best, and 1 is the worst. New Hampshire scored the best with around 33 point average.

So let's take 2 rankings:
Health care "uninsured" % - Texas is 50th out of 50 states, but for the "livability" rankings this is a "negative" and essentially we are 1st place for something bad, so we get 1 point (assuming this is one of the 44 criteria they weighed).

Median Income - I am not sure where Texas ranks, but let's say it is 10th out of 50 states - we would get a score of 40 for this criteria since this is a positive factor.

Add up all the points and divide by 44 - the number of criteria used, and you have this report's livability ranking - and like basketball, the highest score wins... take it for what it's worth. Seems a bit simplistic to me, but generalizations can be helpful in some cases. The conclusion that New Hampshire (1st place) is a better place to live than Mississippi (last place) would not surprise me. But by and large I'm not so sure it's very useful to look at these things at the state level, or to weight all factors equally as this report does.

At 11:06 AM, April 01, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cost of living, anyone?


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