TEXAS AFTER CORONA: HOW THE LONE STAR STATE CAN LEAD THE UNION’S RECOVERY
Texas has for more than a century straddled divides and got stronger in the process. While one of the bedrocks of the United States, it kept its identity and spirit of distinctiveness, which has to do with more than cattle buckles and oil wells, and has to do with how Texans see the bigger picture. This state’s people are winners, bold and decisive people, and this is what this twin -health and economic- crises needs: bold and clear leadership. While for the moment, rightly so, the health situation warrants full attention, a wider strategic thinking is in order for the economic aftermath of the covid19 emergency. Here are some thoughts on the economic recovery.
Time to be Number 1, Lone Star!
Though not the biggest economy of the Union (10th in the world, if Texas were an independent country), it is behind only California (5th world economy if independent) and is actually trailed by New York. By itself, Texas is bigger than Canada or South Korea. This is thanks, in a great extent, to Texan determination, grit, and energy, but also in spite of the fact that Texas does not have one of the most diversified economies in the United States or the world. For many Americans, Texas was where the world ends; and because of decades of policies that did not address the ‘further south’, the solution that some preferred to embrace was a wall.
The world’s Greatest “Bay” (Gulf of Mexico) just happens to have the port of Houston on it, taking goods to and from the whole world, and the closest to the Panama Canal, to connect also with the Indo-Pacific.
“Big Oil”, the expression that leaves people around the world mute with envy, has actually not been so backward looking as some would like to portray it. In fact, they are some of the most important companies in the world to hit on diversification. Together with municipal energy companies, they are ensuring the US has the mix of renewables, carbon-based, and energy efficiency solutions that make it less vulnerable to China’s rare earths quasi-monopoly, or foreign batteries tech. So clearly the thinking is there to make Texas develop its own take upon the world and to lead in the modernization and assertive push the US will need to get out of this slump. Smart and sound tax policy completes the picture and adds to the business appeal.
There are few things that tick off an American more than their own kin hurting, and right now, this is what we are starting in the face. Even if oil bounces back up, even if we crush Covid19, and even if Washington keeps throwing money at the economy, we still need a strategy that will make Texas less dependent on national solutions and more capable of holding its own and having an even bigger weight in national affairs. And if California decided to have its own foreign policy when it disagreed with D.C., then why would Texas not develop its own foreign economic affairs through which it would show how to hold the Union together? It could lead the way.
National Security may be a preoccupation for all Americans, but not everyone is as much front lines as Texas and the southern states. Leaning into that instead of trying to avoid the blame game with half of the country — which, let’s be honest, is not being avoided — would maybe offer the southern border the chance to make the best of a situation instead of getting clobbered by the media and not having the issues go away either.
What if Texas took the USMCA/NAFTA bull by the horns and actually started developing its own industrial policy that would include having industry south of the border, and having a whole bunch of people working there for US companies, instead of having them come up north? And this would be just the beginning. Developing an international strategy allows a state to leverage its own strengths at home, while creating jobs to engage the rest of the world. The US has its Bay area and the Chinese have their new Greater Bay Area. There is room for a Texas Gulf Model Area for the world.
A Matter of Leadership
As an outside observer, I’ve watched Texas wait for national leadership during these times of crisis, and grow a very strong voice in DC. Tough times are already upon Texas, as it is fighting the Coronavirus, but with bold moves from both business and political leadership, and everyone pulling together, as a family, Texas can save its skin from incurring more deaths and losing more jobs. And when it’s done with the crisis, it is time to hit the gas and go into overdrive to lead the recovery, as an example both at home and abroad.
Leadership needs to come with vision. We read in the newspapers that “China poisoned our citizens”, and any other such news. But except for pointing the finger, what else are we doing? There needs to be a greater plan set in motion to prevent the whole economy from crashing; for universities to start investing like asset managers so that they can keep producing the nation’s specialists; for Texas to become a land of green through desalination; for it to have the innovation coupled with the finance needed to give every good jobs; for it to be a beacon across the Mississippi basin.
Based on its current capabilities, Texas’ coastline could look like Key West, its highways and railroads like those of Germany, its biotech and medical system like that of South Korea, and it could have an adequate water supply in such a way that it would no longer need to rely on the aquifers. In short, become the green garden and industrial-energy-science hub in the middle of the North American continent.
These days, while we care for our Covid19 ill, and those affected by shortages and suspension of economic activity, we should reflect and accumulate in us the determination to never again be beaten down by shocks coming from outside our own communities, to never again be defenseless, and remember that Texas was built by going all the way. As a fan and friend of Texas, I am both waiting and encouraging your national and global leadership.