Texas’ bizarre new abortion law has thrown the country into an uproar. The new law is part of a larger pattern of state leaders valuing culture wars over pragmatism, and it’s prompting people to ask whether the state’s harsh new regime will deter businesses from setting up shop there. That’s unlikely in the near term, but in the long run it could indeed threaten Texas’ longstanding reputation as a great place to do business.

Texas has been known as an economic powerhouse for decades. It has cheap land, no state income or capital gains taxes, and business-friendly regulatory policies that have made it a mecca for those looking to escape the pricey, cramped megalopolises of the coast. This was magnified by generations of pragmatic leaders who invested in education, encouraged the development of wind power to diversify the energy sector and strove to build up the state’s technology industries. Even culturally, Texas seemed to have it all — diverse, vibrant, relatively safe big cities, and a deep-red countryside for those of a more conservative inclination. No wonder Texas outstripped its sclerotic rival California in terms of population growth for 20 years.

But there’s no guarantee that trend will continue. Under Governor Greg Abbott, Texas has made some course changes that could eventually put the vaunted “Texas model” under threat.

The recent abortion law has just been the most visible of these. The law has gained national attention because of a U.S. Supreme Court decision in its favor, which threatens to relitigate the constitutionality of abortion itself, as well as raising various other thorny legal issues. But the law is pretty wild in its own right — it allows citizens to personally earn money by suing people who get, perform or assist abortions, effectively turning the entire population of the state into bounty hunters.

That’s a chilling prospect for many people who might be considering a move to Texas for business. Who wants to have to worry about the possibility of their daughter being watched by greedy vigilantes? A law that provides a financial incentive for neighbors to spy on neighbors is hardly the action of a state that welcomes working families.

But the abortion law is only one of several instances in which Abbott and his political allies have put culture wars above economic pragmatism in recent years. When a blizzard cut off electricity to most of the state in February, Abbott was quick to blame wind turbines for the outage. This is nonsense, of course; wind accounts for about a quarter of the state’s electricity generation, but was responsible for only 13 percent of the outages.

Turning energy into a culture war might play well with Fox News hosts, but economically it’s a terrible move. Solar and wind — two things Texas has a lot of — are already cheap and getting even cheaper, meaning that if Texas wants to be competitive, it’s going to have to diversify away from an increasingly obsolescent oil and natural gas sector. This is especially important in order to attract businesses like that of Elon Musk, who has recently invested a lot in Texas and whose companies constitute big bets on renewable energy. Former Governor Rick Perry, for all his support of fossil fuels, understood the need for pragmatism on energy; Abbott doesn’t seem to.

Immigration is another example. A formerly pro-immigrant lawyer, Abbott has reinvented himself as a scourge of the undocumented, and declared that the state won’t participate in refugee resettlement. These actions by themselves won’t necessarily cut Texas off from the human capital it needs to power its economy — refugees provide only a modest economic boon and won’t make or break the state’s economy. But sending a general message that Texas is unwelcoming to foreigners could warn skilled workers away from cities like Houston and Dallas. And Texas definitely needs those skilled workers if it’s going to be a tech leader.

There’s also public health. Even as COVID-19’s delta variant swept through his state, Abbott banned many businesses from requiring proof of vaccination. The move might play well with anti-vaccination elements in the GOP base, but it sends a strong message that the state’s leadership is cavalier about the lives of its people. Many Texans will undoubtedly die from lack of vaccination; by banning vaccine mandates, it’s willfully contributing to that calamity, as well as directly interfering in the affairs of businesses.

These examples of partisan pandering aren’t going to instantly crash Texas’ economy. But over time they will contribute to a general sense that Texas’ politics has exited its long era of pragmatism and entered a period of dysfunctional culture wars. That will turn away both business investment and human capital that the state needs if it wants to sustain its outperformance and growth over the next few decades. Texas’ leaders don’t need to become liberals, but they should return to the pragmatism that characterized the state’s approach in earlier times.

Noah Smith is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. He was an assistant professor of finance at Stony Brook University, and he blogs at Noahpinion.

(22) comments

DickD

Why do Republicans insist upon regulating women's health in regards to abortion? Personally, my wife and I would never have had an abortion, but I think it is an individual's choice and if there is a God, they answer to God; not a Republican!

jsklinelga

Dick D,

Briefly scanned the comments. Mostly nothing that isn't said day in and day out. But your comment caught my eye. ."if there is a God", Honestly, for real I hope someday the doubt will be gone. ... in a super positive way.

public-redux

“ Briefly scanned the comments. Mostly nothing that isn't said day in and day out.”

It appears that you are referring to your own repetitive comment.

public-redux

Of the millions of gods humanity has created in its image, I imagine you’ve wagered one particular god. I haven’t. I’ve wagered on the god of the One Commandment: “Put no other gods before me.” I haven’t.

Awteam2021

Off subject, but since JSK brought up the eve of 9/11:

Some people are upset that on September 11 Trump will be providing color commentary for a pay-per-view boxing match. Not me, I won’t be upset.

I'm happy that he’s staying far away from the solemn ceremonies memorializes the tragedy and bravery of that day, so we won't have to stoop so low as to notices his buffoonery.

You ask what are the other former presidents doing on 9/11;

* George W. Bush and his wife will visit the Flight 93 National Memorial .

* Barack Obama will attend the Trade Center, zero cite, ceremony with his family.

* Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton will travel to all three sites.

* And, Jimmy Carter, at the age of 96, and his wife will attend a memorial service in Atlanta.

So, no comment from the Republican Party? It won’t matter to his cult. Patriotism... like religion, “ it all boils down to what it does for me. “~ Donald J. Trump

Piedmontgardener

JSK - That's your response? That's utterly pathetic.

jsklinelga

Typo Today the eve of Sept 11

jsklinelga

I should have really drank another cup of coffee and proof read my comment. Vaccine mandate not mask mandate. Forgive my Biden like error.

DickD

Not a Biden error, a Trump like error, someone you support! A known gangster!

olefool

You are unforgiven, you can't escape your past and you also can't deny who you are....

olefool

jsk: Coffee tends to hone the senses..... It's the kool aid you're drinking that's making you squeal...

public-redux

Maybe the FNP simply doesn't regard the 20th anniversary of 09/10/01 as noteworthy.

gabrielshorn2013

[thumbup]

jsklinelga

"has exited its long era of pragmatism and entered a period of dysfunctional culture wars" Ironic. Texas has exited its pragmatism of being free from the dysfunctional cultures of the larger progressive areas by attacking one of the cornerstones of the dysfunctional cultures. Go figure.

And you do not have to be from Texas to understand their rebellious nature. They have been hit hard by Covid . In early summer their vaccination rates were not significantly different than other areas but their border and border towns were flooded with hundreds of thousands unvaccinated folks from a virus epicenter due to an insanely shortsighted and illegal policy of the new administration.

Also you do not have to be from Texas to understand the depths of the dysfunctional cultures. Today, September 11, 2021, is the 20 year anniversary of 9/11. A day we will never forget, supposedly. Yet the FNP, a paper in a city of 90,000 smack dab in the middle of the progressive dysfunctional culture hardly mentions the event. Instead it broadcast loudly Biden's highly questionable, authoritative mask mandate. We all know why. After the disastrously incompetent exit from Afghanistan the progressive White House will use all powers of deflection to avoid mentioning the day we will never forget.

Awteam2021

What’s Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, Alabama, Idaho and Missouri excuse for off the chart covid cases? They don’t border Mexico.

And your comment has nothing to do with Texas’ disturbing actions towards - women’s healthcare, renewable energy, bounties on women’s bodies, long term effects of unwelcoming immigrate skilled workers, lack of vaccinations, banning businesses from requiring proof of vaccination? 🤔 Or any other of Texas’ unreasonable behavior.

Hayduke2

Maybe one commenter here has family in Texas so they have to try to justify, divert or spin...

gabrielshorn2013

[thumbup]

olefool

"Today, September 11, 2021"..... That may explain who and what you are; a man lost in his fantasies.

DickD

Masks are questionable? What rock are you hiding under, Jim?

gabrielshorn2013

Ummm..jsk...today is September 10 according to my calendar. Tomorrow is September 11, and I will be observing it then. I was one block from the Capitol building at an industry meeting on September 11, 2001, and could watch the smoke rising from the Pentagon. The Metro stopped running, phone lines and cell towers were jammed, and several colleagues and I had to walk miles before we could get a train back to FredCo. We didn't get home until around midnight.

Dwasserba

It’s not 9/11. It’s 9/10. But I heard someone say 9/10/01 was the last day we as a culture felt insulated and safe, and so, it marked something gone from life ever since.

phydeaux994

Trump should have worn a mask and encouraged his “base” to do the same. If that didn’t do enough he should have mandated wearing masks. Biden should have mandated vaccinations as directed by the CDC as soon as they became available. Taking you freedom? Do you know the difference between a mandate and a Law? A Law is Legislated by a Government body. A mandate is issued by an Official who is authorized by law to order one for the good of his jurisdiction. Both are equally enforceable. Biden has gone a long way with his mandate issued yesterday, I wish he had mandated masks and vaccinations fo all under CDC Guidelines. lt’s time we quit coddling those that are resisting to make a Political statement. Hundreds of thousands of American lives, now including children, who died unnecessarily could have been saved. Let the Idiots scream and riot, do the right thing, SAVE AMERICAN LIVES.

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