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July 30, 2009

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Conservatism can be defined as the principle of self-interest. If it helps me, it's good. If it helps you, it's socialism. Texas got very rich from oil and American taxpayers and it's not inclined to return favors.

LBJ was an incredibly complex figure and his "largeness" was an amalgam of every good and vile instinct humans possess. That the ultimate outcome of his policies advanced the Reagan Revolution and the ascendancy of white victimhood is ironic. But maybe it was destiny, his and America's, to overreach in one area in order to consolidate in another.

The meanness of today's Republican Party is little more than a reaction to Great Society policies benefiting those with dark skin. LBJ was a racist himself despite his own policies. Our collective destiny was determined less by conscious intent than this sad but inevitable gap between ideals and fear.

You can't have wealth without accumulation. You can't accumulate without control of the means of production. You can't become a tycoon controlling the means of production (e.g., vast tracts of land for cattle, water rights, natural resources like oil, etc.) without using force and theft, whether privately or with the assistance (financial, legal, or military) of the government.

Nobody ever became an oil magnate by selling lemonade on the corner as a child, then graduating to newspaper delivery and later selling used cars. You accumulate wealth by owning what people need, and paying others far less for their work than the profits their work produce for you; and by using the accumulated profits to expand your ownership of such things and continue the process.

As Mr. Talton has pointed out in his nuanced essay, Texas is more than oil. But without oil and federal largesse and the business and university infrastructure these paid for, what's left is:

"...the highest proportion of people lacking health insurance of all 50 states; the third-highest poverty rate; the second-highest imprisonment rate; the highest teenage-birth rate; the lowest voter turnout; and the lowest proportion of high-school graduates..."

These things often go together, and stem in turn from the other critical fact cited by The Economist: "Texas spends less on each of its citizens than any other state". Poverty and crime, low-education and bastardy: is any modern, educated person really surprised by the correlation?

So, whereas it seems difficult to deny that a major part of "the long tradition of business getting everything it wants" includes low taxes and light regulation, the advantages enjoyed by the state have been provided not by this, but by natural resources and lavish government subsidies and protectionism; and the state's low-spending has produced the long list of human-resource and social debilities quoted above.

This is built into the system. Not everyone can be a skilled, well-paid oil driller or engineer. Not everyone can be a university graduate, because the economy simply doesn't support that many jobs requiring degrees. The bulk of workers MUST be unskilled and semi-skilled. If there is, at times, an unskilled labor surplus, particularly among minorities, all the better: it provides business leaders with a chance to divert white workers' attention from economic to racial issues. Otherwise, they get wise, organized, and their increased wages and benefits eat into those fat profits. Voter apathy is also encouraged among the proles, for similar reasons, which may be why Texas businessmen and the politicians who serve them regard the "tradition" of low-voter turnout equally congenial.

You can't accumulate without control of the means of production and surplus labor. You can't have surplus labor without paying workers far less than the value of what they produce. You can't accomplish and maintain any of this without political control. You can't maintain political control if the majority (whose class interests oppose yours) are politically conscious and active and have solidarity. It all goes together. It's the way the system has evolved. That's capitalism.

P.S. Of course, you can become a tycoon via inherited wealth, but you are then depending indirectly, rather than directly, on the dynamics described above.

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