Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Nashville vs. Houston vs. coasts, TX beats Krugman, our 6th anniversary, and more

Just a few smaller misc items to pass along this week:
  • How's this for amusing? The new 2010 Census population-weighted center of the United States is Texas County, Missouri!  How's that for a sign of where the population is moving?  And it gets better: guess the county seat of Texas County, MO? Houston!  Both named in 1845 after the new Republic of Texas and Sam Houston, our first president.  If you believe in those sorts of things, you could interpret it as an interesting omen of where the action will be in the next decade+... ;-)
  • This post devastates Paul Krugman's column attacking education in Texas vs. more unionized Wisconsin.  It turns out when you directly compare racial groups, Texas does quite a bit better than Wisconsin.  Wisconsin only looks better on the surface because of their demographics.  Hat tip to Packy.
  • A great quote from a review in The Economist of Ed Glaeser's new book on cities:
He sees it as an indictment of planning that spreading Houston has “done a better job of providing affordable housing than all of the progressive reformers on America’s East and West coasts.”
  1. First, as I previously noted, is the extremely high ambition level. These guys are clearly looking at places like Atlanta, Dallas, Charlotte, etc. and saying “Why not us?” Their mission is to become one of America’s great cities. There’s no “era of limits” in Nashville. You see this come through, for example, in their convention center plans, which call for 1.2 million square feet. It comes through in their highways, which are being built 8-10 lanes with HOV lanes, as if getting ready to become the much bigger city they plan to be. It shows in the numerous residential high rise and midrise projects. It shows in how Nashville, unlike every comparable Midwest metro, already has a commuter rail line in service. Midwesterners recoil from change, and would view becoming the next Charlotte or Atlanta with horror. But Nashville is eager to move up to the premier league, so to speak.
  2. Second is the unabashedly pro-growth and pro-business stance. Every development in the Midwest is opposed by some group of NIMBY’s. Densification, even in downtown areas, is often anathema to influential neighbors. Not in Nashville. Huge tracts of inner city are being rebuilt from vacant lots or single family homes into multi-story town houses or condos. There are midrises all over the place. It does not appear that development has any problem getting approved there.
  3. Third is low taxes and costs. Tennessee does not have a state income tax. Electricity from the TVA is dirt cheap. Property taxes cannot be increased without a public vote. It remains to be seen if this environment can be sustained, but for right now, cost appears to be an advantage.
  4. Fourth is that they’ve embraced instead of rejecting their heritage. Rather than saying that country music is for hillbillies and an embarrassment to their new ambitions as a big league city, they’ve proudly embraced it. They updated the image with a glitzy, “Nashvegas” spin and made it the core of what Nashville is all about. Most Midwestern elites seem to view their existing heritage negatively. But great cities have to spring from the native soil in which they are born. Their character has to be organic. Import all the fancy stores, restaurants, sports teams, transit lines, etc. you want, but it won’t distinguish your city. Nashville learned this lesson well, probably from Atlanta. The southern boomtowns took their existing Southern heritage, dropped the negative items that needed to be changed, updated the core positive elements, and created the vision of the “New South”. This is something that can be embraced by the masses, unlike the elitist transformations that are often promulgated.
  5. Fifth is that, again, they appear to have studied the lessons of places like Dallas, Atlanta, Charlotte, etc. They’ve seen the need for freeways. They’ve looked at the style of development and the neo-traditional urban form. I was very impressed to see that there while most condo developments and such were fairly undistinctive, I did not note any that exhibited poor urban design form. When I consider the poorly designed projects that are frequently implemented in, say, downtown Indianapolis, it is easy to see who gets out more. Nashville has done its homework.
  6. Sixth, Nashville is realistic and open to self-criticism without being self-flagellating. I posted my previous take on the city on a discussion forum dedicated to that city. Given the modestly negative tone contained in much of it, I expected to get crucified. Surprisingly, most of them basically agreed with it. Too many cities in the Midwest either engage in naive boosterism or wallow in woe-is-us. Perhaps because of the large number of newcomers, there’s a more realistic assessment of where Nashville stands. And this enables rational decisions about where it needs to go.
Finally, I'd like to close with an acknowledgement of Houston Strategies' 6th anniversary.  It's been a great six years, and I hope to keep it going as long as ya'll keep reading me.  As always, thanks for your readership.

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At 2:15 AM, March 17, 2011, Blogger Rail Claimore said...

I live 100 miles south of Nashville and most of Renn's descriptions are pretty spot on, but oddly enough, I've never associated Nashville with country music. I know it's the center of the genre, but to me growing up, Nashville was always that "big city" a couple hours north of here with more fun stuff to do.

Another tidbit about Texas County, MO: it's that state's largest county in area (we can ignore Alaska for just this comparison). ;)

At 11:41 AM, March 17, 2011, Blogger Alon Levy said...

I thought Texas was supposed to be less segregated than Wisconsin (a few years ago, Milwaukee ranked as the most segregated city in America), making the racial comparisons not meaningful. The underclass in Texas is not racial in the same way it is in the Rust Belt.

At 1:05 PM, March 17, 2011, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I'm not sure segregation is relevant. Nationally, minorities often under-perform on these tests, and TX has many more minorities (absolutely and proportionally) than Wisconsin.

At 1:46 PM, March 18, 2011, Blogger Alon Levy said...

Sure, but it's not like blacks, Hispanics, and whites are in different buckets. Segregated, poor minorities underperform - in the Rust Belt and the Old South it's blacks, in California it's Hispanics, in Europe it's Arabs and gypsies, etc. (For a rather stupid counterexample, let's compare Hispanic test scores in the US and Spain...)

At 12:44 AM, March 20, 2011, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Texas is less segregated than Wisconsin. It's not perfect. Its success in this respect may have something to do with Texas minority groups' ability to outperform their counterparts in WI. If racial lines were truly erased in TX and not WI, I'd expect Texas minorities to outperform by even more.

At 12:35 AM, March 21, 2011, Anonymous awp said...


and maybe that is why Texas outperforms Wisconsin in each racial category. The point of the linked post is not necessarily that Texas is better, you would have to use many more controls than just race to 'prove' that. The point is that Wisconsin is not better because it has unions. Primarily because Wisconsin appears to be worse when you use these simple controls.
If Krugman would get back to being an economist instead of defaming the term "economist", he might be able to do a proper study and show, controlling for as many relevant variables as possible, whether unions appear to increase the quality of "education" or not.

At 12:29 PM, March 21, 2011, Blogger Alon Levy said...

AWP: I think you're missing my point, which is that these controls aren't very useful when the racial achievement gap works differently in Texas and Wisconsin. Texas has a much larger black and Hispanic middle class and fewer whites, which means that all three racial groups are on average richer in Texas - whites are likelier to be upper- and upper-middle class as opposed to middle-class, and blacks and Hispanics are likelier to be middle-class as opposed to lower-class. Furthermore, the non-Rust Belt-y segregation levels ensure that any achievement gap in Texas is based on socioeconomic status, and not race.

At 10:10 PM, March 21, 2011, Anonymous awp said...


No, I am not missing your point. Yes, any decent economist would include controls for socioeconomic status along with many others.

Krugman included no controls and made a specious argument. Iowahawk includes the easy racial controls (which unfortunately are still a decent proxy for economic status) to show the speciousness of Krugmans argument.

At 11:44 PM, March 21, 2011, Blogger Alon Levy said...

In Wisconsin, the bucket of white people consists of most of the middle class and nearly the entire upper-middle and upper classes; in Texas, it tilts much more upper-middle and upper-class, so whites perform better. In Wisconsin, the buckets of blacks and Hispanics are mostly underclass with some middle class; in Texas, they're mostly middle class, so they, too, perform better. Yes, race is a proxy for SES, but it's not a proxy in the same way in Texas and Wisconsin.

As for Krugman, he wasn't writing a study about education; he was noting that the states where teachers are unionized outperform states where they aren't. Yes, you can find exceptions - California is always a good source of examples for terrible blue-state governance. It doesn't change the general rule.

At 10:04 AM, March 22, 2011, Blogger lockmat said...

What kind of bad projects have gone up in downtown Indy? What makes them bad?

At 11:22 AM, March 22, 2011, Anonymous awp said...

Krugman: says that if you don't use any other controls unionization is correlated with better education,by comparing graduation rates between Texas and Wisconson.

IowaHawk: says that if you control for race it appears Texas is better than Wisconson, and thus it is not necessarily so cut and dry.

Alon says: IowaHawk didn't use enough controls. This proves that Krugman, who didn't use any controls, is right.

This is the only economic research article that comes up on the first page under a google scholar search for "teacher unions education".

They claim to find that teacher's unions raise costs without any effect on achievement. So it is not so clear that teacher's unions in general improve education.


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