Are People Really Fleeing Texas?

There’s a lot of talk about “narratives” these days, and they are indeed powerful tools for shaping perceptions. Take California, for instance: for most of my life, it was the apex of opportunity, a republic of dreams where fortunes were made and stars were born, a place of perfect weather and impeccably liberal politics, where only the occasional earthquake might get you down.

Of course, the reality was much more complicated than that. But the narrative contained sufficient truth — who can argue with the fifth-largest economy on the planet? — that the story endured for generations. In recent years, however, a new, darker narrative has begun to supplant it — more or less a sequel to the Death Wish movies, only without the vigilante justice.

This California is a dystopian zone where criminals roam the streets and homeless drug addicts die in the gutter, while a rotten ruling class presides over extreme inequality while peddling delusional ideas. As a result, hundreds of thousands of people are fleeing the state. During the pandemic, California’s population decreased for the first time since it achieved statehood in 1850, while more than 343,000 people left in 2022 alone — a net loss of 113,000. And the twist in the tale, the truth that is most inconvenient of all, is where the largest number of Californians are fleeing to: Texas.

This isn’t just inconvenient — it’s downright embarrassing.

Because until very recently, the narrative about Texas was that it was essentially the anti-California, a backwards hellscape of racist, Bible-thumping, gun-toting hillbillies. In this blighted zone, heavily armed cult leaders await the apocalypse with their child brides while grinning Republican governors sign execution warrants for the mentally ill.

Just as California was never heaven, neither was Texas ever hell. The narrative had a good run, mind you: just a few years ago, I met an expat English journalist in Austin who was still able to pay the rent by hacking out an endless stream of utterly predictable stories about guns and death for a liberal readership in the US and UK. But even as a caricature, this narrative just doesn’t make sense any more: it overlooks the fact that Texas is home to the headquarters of more Fortune 500 companies than any other state, that Houston is one of the most diverse cities in America, and that Austin is home to Elon Musk’s gigafactory. When the richest man in the world abandons the Golden State for shitkicker country, a new narrative is clearly required…

Read the rest at UnHerd.

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