TIME States

Q&A: The Man Who Wants To Split California Into 6 States

Tim Draper, managing partner for Draper Fisher Jurvetson, speaks during a panel.
Tim Draper, managing partner for Draper Fisher Jurvetson, speaks during a panel. Armando Arorizo—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Venture Capitalist Tim Draper is the inspiration behind an ambitious, unlikely proposal

This week, the California Secretary of State’s office gave initial approval to a proposal that would split the Golden State into six new ones: Jefferson, North California, Silicon Valley, Central California, West California and South California. If proponents can gather 807,000 signatures by July 14, the question will go to voters in November.

The man behind the “Six Californias” plan is big-name venture capitalist Tim Draper, known for investment in companies like Hotmail and Skype. TIME spoke to Draper about where this idea came from, how he decided on six states and whether there are any political ambitions behind his novel effort. Here’s an edited transcript of the interview:

Where did this idea come from?

We now spend the most and get the least. We spend among the most for education and we’re 46th in education. We spend among the most for prisons, and we are among the highest recidivism rates … So the status quo is failing. And there have been some very good people running California, governing California. So it must be systemic. At best, the system seems to be on a spiral down. At worst it’s a monopoly, and in a monopoly, they can charge whatever they want and provide whatever service they want. In a competitive environment, people get good service and they pay fair prices.

So you see the current state government as a monopoly?

Yeah. … The strongest argument for Six Californias is that we are not well-represented. The people down south are very concerned with things like immigration law and the people way up north are frustrated by taxation without representation. And the people in coastal California are frustrated because of water rights. And the people in Silicon Valley are frustrated because the government doesn’t keep up with technology. And in Los Angeles, their issues revolve around copyright law. Each region has its own interest, and I think California is ungovernable because they can’t balance all those interests. I’m looking at Six Californias as a way of giving California a refresh and allowing those states to both cooperate and compete with each other.

Do you think some of these factors you mention, like attention paid to copyright law, might seem like rather small problems for such an extreme, potentially expensive solution?

Actually, I think the real extreme and the real expense problem is what’s going on now.

You mentioned all these various desires of people in different areas. Have you spoken to people in each of these six regions who support this plan?

Yeah. I get a ton of emails of support. People are supporting this all over … What I’ve noticed is that at first, people hear it and they go, ‘Why would you do this? This is California. This is America.’ And then I say, ‘This is exactly why I do this. Because I love California, and I love America.’ We are the government. We the people, are the government. And we need to create a system that works.

You said in another interview that if the government of California served residents the way that Google serves employees that it buses down from San Francisco to Silicon Valley, that you wouldn’t have proposed this. Can you expand on that?

They were asking specifically about the attacks on the Google buses. And so I said, look, the whole thinking is if California were able to provide the kind of service that it should be able to provide for the costs that they spend, then I wouldn’t feel this obligation. But there is an additional benefit of being six Californias, in that we will be closer to our government. Our government will be more in touch with our individual constituents.

Presumably the state’s needs you are most familiar with is Silicon Valley, where you would reside. How much of your inspiration for this proposal was about that area being its own state?

I’ve always had a real interest in California, and I’ve always had an interest in how to improve the state. I live in the Silicon Valley, but I have business interests all over the world. So I do visit all different parts of California, so I’m interested in the whole, not necessarily any individual part. I love the energy and technology that comes out of the Silicon Valley, but I believe that when these six Californias come together, that we will all be surprised at how much innovation and spirit comes out of all six of these states.

How would you like to see things done differently in Silicon Valley, if it had its own government?

The issues of Silicon Valley are things like when Napster came out. No one knew how the law should be handled. It was a new technology. And no one quite knew whether it had some violation of copyright or not … And the people who were making those decisions were very distant, and not familiar with what Napster was. Now we have Bitcoin. We have very uncertain laws around Bitcoin. I believe if there were a government closer to Silicon Valley, it would be more in touch with those technologies and the need for making appropriate laws around them. Silicon Valley is seeing great frustration. They see how creative and efficient and exciting life can be in a place where innovation thrives, and then they see a government that is a little lost.

In the state’s legislative analysis, they pointed out that Silicon Valley would become the richest per capita state in the U.S. And another part of California would become the poorest. What about the issue of income inequality this would create among states?

The issue is very interesting. For one thing, I’ve noticed that the people most adamant about creating their own state or being a part of their own state are the poorest regions, and in the current system, they are not happy, because it is not working for them. So if they had their own state, I believe all of those states would become wealthier. And I believe by managing their own state, they will become much more successful. A lot of those regions are rural, and they feel they’re being unduly influenced by the urban population.

Why six states, rather than four or five or seven?

Well, seven is a question. We did consider five and we did consider more than six. We felt that we needed at least enough states so there could be this cooperative, competitive environment where each of the states could watch and benefit from the actions of the others and each could compete for their constituents and their counties. A lot of people have asked me why not two or three? My belief is with two or three you’d end up with the same kind of environment, where you’d end up with two monopolies or three monopolies.

When you say “we,” who worked on the proposal?

I’ve worked with quite a few of these biggest experts in the world in constitutional law, in political thinking, in demographics, in water rights. It’s come after a lot of research and a lot of work.

Can you give an example of someone you’ve worked with?

I’ll let them talk for themselves. My goal is to get this put on the ballot and then allow Californians to see what it could do for them.

What does California have as a whole that it would lose when broken into parts?

There’s some feelings people have of being Californians, although when I’m generally talking to people, they make it specific. ‘I’m from Southern California. I’m from Northern California. I’m from Central Cali.’ People’s identity might be an issue. But once they get over that, I think they’re going to start thinking, ‘What would my state look like? And what could be better? And how should it be governed?’ And then it’s just a matter of doing crowdsourcing on what the flag’s going to look like and what the state bird is and what the state constitution looks like. The Internet has disrupted a lot of industries and it has changed a lot of things, and I think that it might be not a bad idea to have six fresh states that can respond well to this new world we live in.

What about something like clout on the international scene that California has as a result of being this giant, powerful whole?

I don’t think it ties to state identity. I think it ties to individual corporations that are benefitting the world. Apple and Google and the Hollywood groups. They have a large influence on the world. I think that will continue to be a large influence on the world. I don’t think it has much to do with being one, individual state.

How do you think having these new states, and presumably so many more senators and different leanings, right and left, would affect the American political landscape?

I know a lot of people are thinking about that. I actually think that once California has created six new states, my guess is that New York will create three and Texas will create five. We might end up with a total of 60 states. If we really think about the world in two political parties, I think we are missing something … I personally have become an Independent, I don’t really pick a political party anymore.

Even if California approves the measure, how likely do you think it is that Congress and the president would pass and sign a law approving the separation?

I think if Californians really desire to have six states, the whole national scene will starting looking at what really is a better way of government. And if all 30 million people feel this is what they want to do, it would be fairly difficult for a president to deny that.

Presumably you’re gearing up now for gathering signatures. Will you be donating or gathering money to support those efforts?

Actually, we are deciding whether to go for 2014 or 2016 on this. It’s a heavy topic and it affects a lot of people, and people have to bring it into their consciousness. We’re thinking that it may be 2016, but we haven’t made a final call on that … I’m very serious about it. It really has to be a grassroots effort, and that’s the way we’re going to focus the campaign.

What are potential drawbacks to this proposal? What could go wrong?

If we hurry it, that’s the one thing I’m concerned about. That’s the one reason I might not go for 2014.

Have you discussed this proposal with the current governor, Jerry Brown?

Yes, I have.

And what did he say?

He said, ‘Send it to me.’

If all this proposal does is start a conversation and never becomes a reality, will you consider that a success?

I’ve got a mission now. And I can’t think about it that way.

Do you have any ambitions to run for elected office, if this proposal becomes a reality or otherwise?

Oh, no. Oh, no. I’d let all the states run themselves.

So no plans to be part of the future Silicon Valley state’s government?

No, no, no. I just want a good a place to live.

TIME Gay Rights

Arizona Passes Bill Allowing Businesses to Snub Gay Couples

Gov. Jan Brewer deciding whether to sign or veto

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer is deciding whether or not to sign a bill allowing businesses to refuse service to gay couples in the name of religious freedom, after the controversial measure was passed this week by the Republican-controlled state legislature.

The bill was passed Thursday by the state House after the GOP-led Senate approved it Wednesday. It passed the Senate on a straight party-line vote, and all but three House Republicans voted for it, the Los Angeles Times reports. The measure would allow Arizona business owners to refuse to serve gay couples because of their religious beliefs. The bill’s sponsors, Republican Sens. Steve Yarbrough and Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, say that the bill protects the religious liberty of Arizona citizens. Opponents say it enables discrimination.

Arizona is just the latest state weighing whether or not businesses should be allowed to refuse service to gay couples. A similar measure in Kansas died in a legislative committee this week.

It is not yet clear whether Brewer, a Republican, will sign the bill into law, and she typically does not comment on legislation before she has made her decision. Calls to the governor’s office were not immediately returned Friday morning.

Democrats and gay rights activists are pushing for Brewer to veto the bill, calling it discriminatory and unconstitutional. State House Minority Leader Chad Campbell, who opposed the bill, tweeted:

TIME States

Here Are America’s 5 Most Miserable States

A group of ice fishers gather on the frozen surface of Ridenour Lake in Nitro, W.Va., Jan. 27, 2014.
A group of ice fishers gather on the frozen surface of Ridenour Lake in Nitro, W.Va., Jan. 27, 2014. Robert M. Wojcieszak—Charleston Daily Mail/AP

And the happiest

This post is in partnership with 24/7 Wall Street. The article below was originally published on 247wallst.com.

The well-being of Americans hasn’t improved in the past six years, and it even declined slightly in 2013, according to a recent Gallup study. While national figures remained flat overall, the ranks of the states with the highest well-being scores changed considerably. North Dakota topped the well-being list in 2013 after failing to crack the top 10 in 2012. Hawaii, 2012’s top state, fell to number eight in 2013. West Virginia, on the other hand, remained at the bottom of the list for the fifth consecutive year.

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, which interviewed more than 176,000 people from all 50 states last year, measures the physical and emotional health of Americans across the country. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the more than 50 metrics comprising the six broad categories Gallup used to identify well-being.

Well-being matters because it effectively reflects health, employment, education, and the local environment, Dan Witters, research director of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, told 24/7 Wall St. Witters suggested that this means that a strong economy and a healthy, educated workforce can improve well-being, just as high well-being may also influence further development.

Because these relationships appear to exist, “there’s a lot of things that employers or communities can do structurally, culturally, legislatively, that can positively affect change around well-being,” Witters added.

The Gallup-Healthways survey asked respondents a large range of questions. There were several indicators for which states with low well-being largely received low scores, and for which states with high well-being typically received high scores.

In states with high well-being scores, residents were less likely to smoke and more likely to exercise regularly and learn new things every day. These states also enjoyed the positive outcomes of such behaviors, including lower obesity rates and other common health problems.

The opposite was generally true for states with low well-being, where residents were more likely to have unhealthy lifestyles or limited access to basic necessities. As a result, they tended to feel physically and emotionally unhealthy. In those states, residents were among the most likely in the nation to suffer from health problems such as high cholesterol and blood pressure, as well as obesity. Broadly, residents in these states did not feel they were thriving.

Other factors considered by 24/7 Wall St., in addition to data from the Well-Being Index, may also influence a state’s score. The states with the lowest well-being typically had very low median household incomes. Having a stable income is important because it enables people to access basic needs such as healthy food, clean water, medicine, and health care. However, the opposite was not the case for the highest ranking states, a number of which were not especially well-off.

“For the most part, well-being goes up with income,” according to Witters. While a low income can definitely impair well-being, as incomes rise, factors such as emotional health tend to level out, Witters explained. For individuals, “emotional health scores kind of hit their peak at about $75,000 a year. And after that point, they really don’t get any better.”

However, while states with high well-being scores did not have necessarily high incomes, they often had other advantages, such as high educational attainment and low unemployment. In each of the top-rated states more than 90% of residents had a high school diploma, versus just 86.4% of Americans nationwide. Educational outcomes in low well-being states were generally poor. Also, many states with high scores had low unemployment.

Although a number of the states with the highest, and lowest, well-being scores have remained the same, the well-being of a number of states significantly improved in the most recent year. Perceived improvement in the work environment, especially in the supervisor’s treatment, was often behind these gains, according to Witters. He cited workplace evaluations as a major reason Hawaii fell in the rankings, as well as a major reason North and South Dakota, the two states with the highest well-being scores, entered the top 10 in 2013.

Regional patterns were also evident, as states in some parts of the country continued to do better than others in 2013. In particular, the Plains states were disproportionately well-represented among the states with the highest well-being. North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Iowa were all among the top 10 states. States in the Southeast accounted for seven of the 10 states with the lowest well-being score in the nation. This has been the case in previous years as well.

24/7 Wall St. reviewed all 50 U.S. states based on their scores in the Gallup-Healthways 2013 Well-Being Index. Gallup-Healthways calculated a national well-being score as well as one for each state, assigning scores from 0 to 100, with 100 representing ideal well-being. In generating the rank, Gallup combined six separate indices, measuring access to basic needs, healthy behavior, work environment, physical health, life evaluation and optimism, and emotional health. In addition to the index, 24/7 Wall St. considered data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2012 American Community Survey, including median income, poverty levels, and the percentage of adults with a high school diploma or higher. From the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we reviewed state unemployment rates as of December 2013. We also reviewed 2010 statistics for life expectancy at birth and deaths from heart disease, as well as 2011 data on prescription drugs, published by The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. We also considered state violent crime rates in 2012 from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report Program.

1. West Virginia
> Well-being index score: 61.4
> Life expectancy: 75.4 years (tied-2nd lowest)
> Pct. obese: 34.4% (2nd highest)
> Median household income: $40,196 (3rd lowest)
> Pct. with high school diploma: 84.5% (8th lowest)

No Americans had as negative an outlook about their future as West Virginians, who rated their projected life in five years the lowest. Additionally, just 44.8% of residents described themselves as thriving, the lowest in the nation. West Virginia also had the lowest score for overall emotional health, ranking either the lowest or second-lowest in nearly all of the indicators considered by the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. Unsurprisingly, residents had less confidence about the future of the U.S. economy than those anywhere else in the nation. Outside of attitudes, West Virginians were also the least physically healthy respondents in the nation. The state had the highest rates of both high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and the second highest obesity rate. It also had the highest rate of respondents unable to partake in age-appropriate activities.

MORE: Cities with the Highest and Lowest Taxes

2. Kentucky
> Well-being index score: 63.0
> Life expectancy: 76.0 years (tied-6th lowest)
> Pct. obese: 30.6% (9th highest)
> Median household income: $41,724 (5th lowest)
> Pct. with high school diploma: 83.8% (5th lowest)

Kentuckians had some of the most unhealthy behaviors last year. Less than 60% of those surveyed said they ate well all day, the worst among all states, while the smoking rate was the highest in the nation. Unhealthy habits in the state likely contributed to poor physical health. Respondents from Kentucky were among the most likely to complain about lack of energy and sleep, and nearly 30% said health issues prevented them from going about their normal lives. The state’s population was the nation’s most reliant on prescription drugs, with 19.3 prescriptions filled per capita in 2011, tied with West Virginia.

MORE: States Where Children are Struggling to Read

3. Mississippi
> Well-being index score: 63.7
> Life expectancy: 75.0 years (the lowest)
> Pct. obese: 35.4% (the highest)
> Median household income: $37,095 (the lowest)
> Pct. with high school diploma: 82.3% (3rd lowest)

Nowhere else in the U.S. did people feel as negative about their work environment as in Mississippi. But this was just one of the problems facing state residents. Respondents were among the most likely in the nation to lack access to basic necessities. More than a quarter of people surveyed in the state indicated they did not have money for food at some point in the previous 12 months, while nearly as many lacked money for health care. By a number of measures, the state was one of the absolute poorest in the nation. The median income in Mississippi was just $37,095 in 2012, lowest in the U.S. Also, 24.2% of people lived below the poverty line, more than in any other state. With limited access to basic needs and poor healthy behaviors, the state was among the worst in the nation in physical health assessments. Last year, no state had a higher obesity rate than Mississippi. In 2010, no state had a higher rate of death from heart disease or a lower life expectancy at birth than Mississippi.

MORE: America’s Richest Presidents

4. Alabama
> Well-being index score: 64.1
> Life expectancy: 75.4 years (tied-2nd lowest)
> Pct. obese: 28.1% (tied-20th highest)
> Median household income: $41,574 (4th lowest)
> Pct. with high school diploma: 84.0% (6th lowest)

The median household income in Alabama of just $41,574 in 2012 was fourth lowest in the nation. The relatively low income of many state residents may have made it difficult for them to access basic necessities. Relatively few Alabama residents said they had enough money to afford medicine, food, or adequate shelter. Alabama residents also had among the worst physical health in the nation. High blood pressure and diabetes in particular were much more common in Alabama than in most other states. Also, there were 236 deaths per 100,000 people due to heart disease, the second-most nationwide.

MORE: 10 Weirdest Things Thieves Steal

5. Ohio
> Well-being index score: 64.2
> Life expectancy: 77.8 years (13th lowest)
> Pct. obese: 30.9% (8th highest)
> Median household income: $46,829 (17th lowest)
> Pct. with high school diploma: 88.8% (25th highest)

Despite its low well-being score, Ohio stands out from other low ranking states because it doesn’t exhibit many of the elements often present in those states. For one, Ohio’s median household income of $46,829 in 2012 was higher than most states with low well-being scores. Similarly, its residents had better access to basic needs than residents of other low well-being states. However, residents generally had low evaluations of their lives, trailing only West Virginia and Kentucky by that measure. Just 49.3% of respondents stated they were thriving in their lives last year, one of the lowest proportions in the nation. Relatively few respondents indicated they had a learning experience within the previous 24 hours, and residents were among the most likely in the U.S. to have felt angry that day. This contributed to Ohio’s low ranking for emotional health.

Click here to see the rest as well as America’s most content states

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TIME States

Alaskan Outrage As Obama Appointee Rejects Wilderness Road

An emergency medical evacuation at the King Cove airstrip
An emergency medical evacuation at the King Cove airstrip. King Cove Public Safety Department

The Department of the Interior's decision to nix a new road is a life-and-death issue for a remote Alaskan village

King Cove is a village of under 1,000 souls, perched on a slender finger of land near the tail of the Alaskan Peninsula. Even for Alaska, this is remote wilderness, ringed by volcanic mountains and forbidding seas. In bad weather, which is much of the time, it is blanketed with fog, engulfed by whiteout snowstorms or lashed with the bitter winds off the strait. King Cove’s residents, some 70% of whom are native Aleuts, endure or embrace its isolation because of the superb commercial fishing, the sense of community and the landscape’s stark beauty. But they have found that the federal government can intrude even here, at the edge of the world.

For about three decades, the village has been fighting to build a new 11-mile, one-lane gravel track connecting King Cove to nearby Cold Bay. Cold Bay is a speck-sized hamlet with little more than a dock, an old Army base, a collection of hunting lodges and an all-weather airport. But the airport is crucial, because the King Cove airstrip—which is short, surrounded by craggy peaks, and inaccessible to night flights—is closed due to bad weather an average of 100 days per year, according to the local flight-service station.

King Cove officials say they desperately need the road so that residents requiring medical treatment can travel quickly to Cold Bay for flights to Anchorage, some 625 miles northeast. Alaska’s Congressional delegation, along with state officials, have been pressing the Department of the Interior to approve the ground link, thereby easing emergency evacuations that can be as hazardous for the rescuers as for people they transport. “This is tough country out here,” says Chris Babcock, the King Cove fire chief. “We don’t have to be putting guys’ lives at risk.”

But on Dec. 23, they got bad news: after a four-year analysis, the Department of the Interior announced it would decline a proposed land swap that would allow the road to be built. A decision released by the department cited the environmental impact on the Izembek national wildlife refuge, a protected habitat for grizzly bears and caribou as well as shorebirds and indigenous water fowl like the Pacific black brant, which rely on the local eelgrass.

“Building a road through the Refuge would cause irreversible damage not only to the Refuge itself, but to the wildlife that depend on it,” said Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. “Izembek is an extraordinary place – internationally recognized as vital to a rich diversity of species – and we owe it to future generations to think about long-term solutions that do not insert a road through the middle of this Refuge and designated wilderness.”

The decision incensed local leaders, who say the Department was exhibiting more concern for birds than people. Over the past three decades, at least 19 people have been killed due to the lack of a land route between King Cove and Cold Bay, according to a spokesman for Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, a Republican. The dangers associated with flying into King Cove for medical emergencies were highlighted on Valentine’s Day, when a Coast Guard helicopter braved 70 m.p.h. winds in a snowy blizzard to ship an elderly woman with heart trouble to Anchorage. “You couldn’t even see the helicopter,” says King Cove mayor Henry Mack. “We just need safe, reliable access to the airport. It’s ridiculous.”

The Interior Department, which affirmed the local U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision that a road was not the “preferred alternative” to connect the two communities, says the villages can pursue alternative methods of transportation. Among the options: resurrecting a hovercraft that was briefly used to transport residents. Back in 1997, the late Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, a Republican, secured nearly $40 million to upgrade the local King Cove medical clinic and airstrip, as well as construct a strip to the hovercraft terminal. While the craft completed every emergency medical mission it was asked to make, it proved expensive to operate and unreliable in bad weather, locals say. It was shelved in 2010 after three years of operation.

The Obama Administration believes the road would carry a significant financial cost, and environmental groups warn of the impact on prized wildlife. In addition, some believe King Cove is using medical evacuations as a pretext to win more federal dollars for an issue that would improve broader quality of life, even though the thoroughfare would be closed to commercial traffic.

Meanwhile, the fury among local residents shows no sign of abating. “It’s an issue of life and death,” says Della Trumble, spokeswoman for the Agdaagux Tribe. It is also, supporters of the road note, perhaps an issue of hypocrisy: there are already dozens of miles of road in the Izembek refuge, and the area caters to wealthy sportsmen who fly in to hunt some of the very birds the Interior Department says it wants to protect. (Sportsmen are allowed to shoot up to 51 birds per day, including two black brant.)

“Government officials come out here saying they have to speak on behalf of the animals and birds,” says Robert Gould, King Cove’s director of public safety. “But what about the people who lost their lives? They can’t speak either.”

In exchange for the 200 acres required to build the road, the refuge would have received some 56,000 acres of state and tribal land. Though she acknowledged the safety issues associated with the road, Jewell declined the proposal. “While the proposed land exchange would bring many more acres of land into the Refuge System, the analysis indicates that the increased acreage could not compensate for the unique values of existing refuge lands, nor the anticipated effects that the proposed road would have on wildlife, habitat, subsistence resources, and wilderness values of the Refuge,” the Secretary wrote on Dec. 23.

Murkowski, who sponsored a 2009 provision ordering the land exchange, was steamed. “While you chose to deny the surest option to provide safe and reliable emergency medical access for the residents of King Cove – a short, one-lane gravel road that would be used only for non-commercial purposes – you also led us to believe that your decision was not the absolute end of your department’s involvement,” Murkowski wrote to Jewell this week.

To many Alaskans, the decision embodied the frustration with Washington in large swaths of the country, stemming from a sense that the federal government relies on faraway bureaucrats to rule on local issues.

“It’s a disregard for the people of the West,” says Robert Dillon, the communications director for the minority at the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, on which Murkowski is the ranking member. “The federal government knows better than the people of Wyoming, or Alaska, and make decisions based on what Washington bureaucrats and environmentalists think. This is just the poster child.”

TIME Gay Rights

Gay Marriage Rulings Could Ripple Across the South

And back to the Supreme Court

Last week’s back-to-back rulings by federal judges in Kentucky and Virginia were the first to embrace gay marriage in the South, but they almost certainly won’t be the last. Similar cases are moving to trial in federal courts across the region, from Louisiana to Texas to Tennessee, in Arkansas and in both the Carolinas. Their prospects in Dixie aren’t certain, but this much is clear: They’ve never been better.

Eight months after the Supreme Court cleared the way for same-sex marriage in U.S. v. Windsor, federal judges have used its reasoning to advance gay marriage in five straight cases, including last week’s decisions out of Louisville and Norfolk. Federal judges in 17 states are facing new gay marriage cases, including at least eight states in the South, according to the LGBT rights organization Lambda Legal. Five state courts in the South will also be presented with cases challenging bans on gay marriage.

The South is home to some of the deepest objections to gay marriage in the nation. Every state in the region save Maryland explicitly bans legal same-sex unions. Until last week, no federal judge or top state court there had ever ruled in favor of gay marriage. And 11 years ago, when Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the landmark opinion Lawrence v. Texas striking down anti-sodomy laws in 14 states where it was still illegal to have gay sex, eight of those states were in the South.

That history made it unsurprising that the Virginia ruling prompted some anguished responses. The president of the Family Foundation of Virginia called the decision by U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen of Norfolk, who was appointed by President Obama, “an emotional outburst by a judge.” The Washington Post reported that a state lawmaker who had co-authored the ban on gay marriage called for her to be impeached.

But those kinds of reactions are becoming more rare as public opposition to gay marriage softens. In Kentucky, a Bluegrass State Poll released one week ahead of the Feb. 12 decision striking down part of its ban on gay marriage showed that 55 percent of registered voters in the state oppose gay marriage. Ten years ago, voters adopted the ban on gay marriage with 74 percent of the vote.

“If you took a referendum in Virginia today, it would turn out in favor of gay marriage,” says Michael Klarman, a professor at Harvard Law School and author of From the Closet to the Altar: Courts, Backlash, and the Struggle for Same-Sex Marriage. “That might not be the case in Alabama or Mississippi, but it is changing.”

And it may change with increasing speed as retiring judges are replaced with younger appointees. “It’s getting harder and harder to find any of the younger judges on the bench appointed by Obama who can tolerate the restrictions on gay marriage,” Klarman says. “They see it as rank discrimination, and now that they have the Windsor case to draw from and changing public opinion, I just don’t think they will be inhibited any more from ruling in favor of gay marriage.”

Even opponents of gay marriage recognize the broader social shift. “We are at a fundamentally changed cultural moment,” says the Rev. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s flagship seminary in Louisville and an outspoken critic of gay marriage. “There is a sense of inevitability in these cases.”

When gay marriage finally made it before the Supreme Court last summer, the justices sidestepped the chance to end the legal debate for good. While Windsor has since cleared the way for gay marriage, it was seen at the time as a far more cautious approach than the one many advocates had desperately hoped for: A ruling on whether California’s controversial Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, could stand. Instead, the justices dispensed with the case on a technicality. The justices will surely take into account the public mood should they address gay marriage again in 2015. “The tide of history is moving and, indeed, accelerating,” says Arthur Leonard, a professor at New York Law School and an expert on gay rights. “During 2013, the number of jurisdictions in which same-sex couples could marry more than doubled, and now close to 40 percent of the country lives in such jurisdictions. In addition, public opinion continues to move in support of allowing same-sex couples to marry.”

One reason the justices acted with caution last time was they are mindful of the risks to the court’s standing – and ultimately its legitimacy – in such a ruling. “Justice [Ruth Bader] Ginsburg was, as she signaled in some of her remarks last spring, concerned about the Court getting too far ahead of the country in civil rights decisions,” Leonard says. But those concerns have turned out to be unfounded. Indeed, the Windsor decision was followed by a series of other rulings that echoed its reasoning. “The consistency of lower court rulings striking down laws prohibiting marriage equality — in the last month in Utah, Oklahoma and Virginia — will make it much easier for the Court to come to the same conclusion,” says Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California, Irvine law school.

With Kentucky and Virginia joining more liberal states in finding for gay marriage, the national mood has clearly shifted. “It won’t be over till it’s over,” says Marc Spindelman, a professor of law The Ohio State University. “But if part of what kept the Court last year from declaring marriage equality to be a fundamental right was concern about potential political backlash to a decision making the announcement – and that hasn’t happened.”

Not even in the South.

TIME States

How Los Angeles Is Surviving California’s Drought

California Drought Dries Up Bay Area Reservoirs
A car sits in dried and cracked earth of what was the bottom of the Almaden Reservoir on Jan. 28, 2014 in San Jose, Calif. Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Policy reforms instituted years ago are paying dividends in an otherwise parched state

My two-adult, one-toddler family uses about 140 gallons of water per day, according to our most recent bill from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. That might sound like a lot, but our usage is significantly below the average consumed by U.S. households our size.

It’s no accident. In recent decades, thanks largely to rebate programs, the residents and businesses of Southern California have made enormous strides in reducing their water consumption to levels unmatched in other parts of the state. The efforts—along with increased reservoir storage capacity in the region—have been so successful that this year, while California is in the midst of a severe drought, there are no plans to ration water in arid Southern California.

More than a dozen communities to the north, meanwhile, are in danger of running out of water completely in the next two to four months, according to state officials. The Sierra Nevada snowpack is only 12 percent its average for this time of year, and the State Water Project, a major supplier of water to communities throughout the state, recently announced it would halt deliveries until further notice. And Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a drought emergency, making Southern California’s relative water abundance all the more remarkable.

Los Angeles and the surrounding communities are better positioned than their northern neighbors due to a combination of factors. My recently renovated two-bedroom house on L.A.’s east side is outfitted with a mandatory low-flow shower head and a dual flush toilet that uses about 25 percent of the water of older models. We have a small lawn, but the sprinkler system that keeps it green is set to turn on only after dark and only three times per week. These conditions, found in households throughout the region, are part of the reason why the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which includes Los Angeles, distributes 20 percent less water than it did in 1990, even though the population has grown by some five million people.

During the state’s last very dry period, from 1987 to 1991, it was a whole different world. L.A. residents faced mandatory water reduction orders and stiff financial penalties for not complying. “It was a real wake up call,” says Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager of the water district.

Back then, with Southern California’s water supplies already stressed, Kightlinger says, “We knew we were not going to be adding new supplies, so we had to look at growth and how we would plan for it as a region. We had to reduce demand.”

In the years after that previous dry period, local water officials in Southern California worked with manufacturers to develop new toilet designs that used less water. They even gave away free, more efficient toilets. They began requiring homeowners to install low-flow showerheads and limit their lawn watering to times before sunrise and after sundown. Over the last 20 years, according to Kightlinger, the water district has invested nearly $333 million in rebate programs to pay Southern California residents and companies for making home and business upgrades that cut down on water use. There are rebates for installing high-efficiency washing machines and smart sprinkler systems that are responsive to weather and plant conditions. Residents can get paid for installing rain barrels and tearing up grass in favor of drought-resistant plants.

But water conservation isn’t the whole picture. Southern California has also increased its water storage capacity 14-fold since 1990, Kightlinger says. Right now, the water district has about three million acre feet of water on hand (an acre foot is the amount of water it would take to cover an acre of land in one foot of water). “If it stopped raining everywhere in the West, we still have a year and half of water supply,” Kightlinger says.

Still, Southern California could do even more, says Madelyn Glickfeld, director of the water resources group at the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability. “We spent a huge amount of money to store this water. But it shouldn’t be that we can use it wastefully because we have it stored,” she says. “Particularly in a drought like this, there should be restrictions. You can’t just say we’ll draw out our reservoirs until they’re dry and hope it rains.”

Glickfeld points out that the water district rebate programs, while impressive, are still a small fraction of the money spent transporting water from other regions to Southern California. “We know about the reliability and cost problems of bringing water from other places,” Glickfeld says. “We could do a heck of a lot more with local resources.”

Moves Glickfeld would like to see include more water recycling within Southern California, installation of permeable pavement that allows more surface water to stay in the ground and systems to charge Southern Californians high rates for water used purely on landscaping.

As previous dry spells accelerated efforts to increase conservation and storage capacity, Glickfeld says she hopes California’s current drought will spur officials throughout the state to take to reduce consumption further. Southern California, she says, “ is so far ahead of Northern California in taking good care of water and using it carefully. The Central Valley doesn’t even have water meters.”

In that farming region of California, where one-third of all jobs are tied to agriculture, local officials are bracing for an increase in unemployment and the prospect of fields being left fallow this year.

“This is a drought that is incomprehensible,” Glickfeld says, “But the good outcome is that we might finally do the job we should be doing.”

TIME nation

‘Why Is Louisiana So Racist?’ Google Autocomplete Map Shows State Stereotypes


The popular Twitter account @Amazing_Maps tweeted the below map, which shows Google autocomplete results for the query “Why is [state] so.”

New York and California are taken to task for being too expensive, while Illinois is called corrupt and Louisiana is called racist. The only states that come out looking okay are Oregon (“Why is Oregon so good?”) and Massachusetts (“Why is Massachusetts so smart?”).

TIME States

Why Texas Is Our Future

The United States of Texas Cover Story
Photo-illustration By Sarah Illenberger For TIME

Correction Appended: Oct. 21, 2013

They say the Lone Star State has four seasons: drought, flood, blizzard and twister. This summer 97% of the state was in a persistent drought; in 2011 the Dallas–Fort Worth area experienced 40 straight days in July and August of temperatures of 100° or higher. The state’s social services are thin. Welfare benefits are skimpy. Roughly a quarter of residents have no health insurance. Many of its schools are less than stellar. Property-crime rates are high. Rates of murder and other violent crimes are hardly sterling either. A recent report from the FBI found that the home state of Chuck Norris led the nation as the place the most people got punched or kicked to death in 2012.

So why are more Americans moving to Texas than to any other state?

Texas has acquired a certain cool factor recently. The pundit Marshall Wittmann has called it “America’s America,” the place where Americans go when they need a fresh start. The state’s ethnic and cultural diversity has made places like Austin and Marfa into magnets for artists and other bohemians.

But I believe the real reason Americans are headed to Texas is much simpler. As an economist and a libertarian, I have become convinced that whether they know it or not, these migrants are being pushed (and pulled) by the major economic forces that are reshaping the American economy as a whole: the hollowing out of the middle class, the increased costs of living in the U.S.’s established population centers and the resulting search by many Americans for a radically cheaper way to live and do business.

One of these pioneers is Casey Colando. When he was just 19, he bought–sight unseen–five acres of Big Bend mountain desert country in Texas as an investment. It was just $300 an acre, far away both culturally and geographically from his native upstate New York. Four years later, in 2008, Colando moved to his homestead in the magnificent but remote region of West Texas.

A graduate of the State University of New York at Canton, where he studied alternative energy, Colando now lives with his wife Sara some 80 miles from the nearest town (Alpine, pop. 6,000). The couple bought more land adjoining their original property, and they run an alternative-energy business that serves various settlers who have moved to this isolated corner of Texas–helping their neighbors eschew what Colando calls “the big electric company” and live off the grid by installing solar and wind power.

Colando says he first tried to launch his alternative-energy business in upstate New York. “It was difficult work for a small business there,” he says. “The costs were higher, and there were fewer business opportunities, more regulations. So I came out West, and I haven’t looked back.”

To a lot of Americans, Texas feels like the future. And I would argue that more than any other state, Texas looks like the future as well–offering us a glimpse of what’s to come for the country at large in the decades ahead. The U.S. is experiencing ever greater economic inequality and the thinning of its middle class; Texas is already one of our most unequal states. America’s safety net is fraying under the weight of ballooning Social Security and Medicare costs; Texas’ safety net was built frayed. Americans are seeking a cheaper cost of living and a less regulated climate in which to do business; Texas has those in spades. And did we mention there’s no state income tax? (Texas is one of only seven states in the union that lack the levy.)

There’s a bumper sticker sometimes seen around the state that proclaims, i wasn’t born in Texas, but i got here as fast as i could. As the U.S. heads toward Texas, literally and metaphorically, it’s worth understanding why we’re headed there–both to see the pitfalls ahead and to catch a glimpse of the opportunities that await us if we make the journey in an intelligent fashion.


The first thing to understand about our more Texan future is what’s happening to the American workforce on the whole: average is over.

More and more workers are leaving the middle class–headed both up and down–and fewer workers are moving into it. Median household income has fallen about 5% since the Great Recession ended in 2009; in that same period, 58% of job growth was in lower-wage occupations, defined as those paying $13.83 an hour or less.

However, it’s not that incomes are stagnant generally. Earners at the top have done very well–but the gains have been distributed quite unevenly. Last year the top 1% of earners took home 19.3% of household income, their largest share since 1928. The top 10% of earners didn’t do so badly either, taking home a record 48.2% of household income.

We know the forces driving this: globalization, advances in computing, and automation mean that Americans are facing tougher competition than ever before from workers overseas, machines and smart software. The individuals moving up the economic ladder are the ones who’ve responded to this competition by upgrading their skills and efforts. The ones moving down are largely those who have failed or been unable to respond at all.

The group struggling the most is the young. People with four-year college degrees earn less today than graduates did in 2000, and over time this will translate into persistently lower earnings. And too many young people today, even if they have jobs, have failed to establish themselves on career ladders. If we look at Americans ages 16 to 24 who are not enrolled in school, only 36% are working full time, 10% less than in 2007. A 24-year-old who is working part time for a website, as a Pilates instructor or in retail may be having fun, but he or she probably won’t be receiving strong promotions a couple of decades down the line.

Meanwhile, the cost of hanging on to a middle-class lifestyle is increasing. As a 2010 report by the Department of Commerce found, looking at economic data from the past two decades, “The prices for three large components of middle-class expenses have increased faster than income: the cost of college, the cost of health care and the cost of a house.”

Texas isn’t immune to any of this, of course. But it just may be the friendliest state for those who worry about their prospects in this new normal. For starters, the job scene is markedly better (more on that in a moment). And more crucially, it’s cheaper to live in Texas and cheaper to thrive there too. Don’t underestimate the power of that lower cost of living, for it can be the difference between a trailer and an apartment–between an apartment and a home.


As davy crockett said in 1835, as his political fortunes ran out in Tennessee, “They might all go to hell, and I would go to Texas.” The phrase Gone to Texas (sometimes abbreviated GTT) was the expression once used by Americans fleeing to the Lone Star State to escape debt or the law–posted as a sign on a fence or scratched into the door of an abandoned home.

While today’s migrants aren’t the vagabonds and outlaws of the 19th century, people are still “gone to Texas.” Texas is America’s fastest-growing large state, with three of the top five fastest-growing cities in the country, according to Forbes: Austin, Dallas and Houston. In 2012 alone, total migration to Texas from the other 49 states in the union was 106,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Since 2000, 1 million more people have moved to Texas from other states than have left.

To get a sense of who these migrants are, consider Tara Connolly. In 2005 the New York City native was sharing a 500-sq.-ft. apartment with her then boyfriend in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn–a gentrified neighborhood where studio apartments rent for about $2,000 a month and sell for about half a million dollars. Feeling stressed, restless and in need of a change, she read an article about Austin and decided to pack up and move, with little more than the hope of finding a job in her field, graphic design.

Eight years later, Connolly is in her mid-30s and works at a hip marketing company in Austin, and she’s the owner of a vintage midcentury home twice the size of her old New York City apartment. It comes with a mortgage payment half the size of her big-city rent. “Buying a house was not something I was thinking about when I came to Austin,” Connolly says. “But here you have people in their 20s buying houses.”

When Connolly announced that she was moving to Austin, she was met with looks of alarm from her Bronx-born family. But she says that after visiting her and seeing her new home, her family has changed its tune. “They say they can’t believe how green it is,” she says. “They thought it was all tumbleweed.”

Connolly’s story is hardly unique. And the general pattern is by no means a new one, according to Bernard Weinstein, an economist and associate director of Southern Methodist University’s Maguire Energy Institute. Weinstein has been observing the Texas economy for more than 30 years and says that “whenever the economy is bad in the rest of the country, that pushes people to the Sun Belt.” Along with the affordable housing and a warm climate, newcomers are drawn by the notion that in the case of Texas, jobs are plentiful. Texas’ unemployment rate is currently 6.4%–high for Texas but below the national rate of 7.3%.

And as Connolly’s story shows, these pilgrims aren’t coming just from places like Michigan, where a major industry has collapsed, but also from more prosperous states like New York and California. Over the past 20 years, more than 4 million Californians have moved out of California, according to Weinstein. “That’s two cities the size of Houston,” he notes.

Jed Kolko, chief economist for San Francisco–based real estate website Trulia, says that from 2005 to 2011, 183 Californians moved to Texas for every 100 Texans who moved to California. “Home prices, more than any other factor, cause people to leave,” Kolko says.

Why is California, for instance, so expensive and Texas so cheap? “God wanted California to be expensive,” Kolko says, with its ideal climate and attractive but limited real estate squeezed between the mountains and the ocean. The demand for a piece of the California dream was destined to be expensive, and lawmakers passed strict building codes to add to the bottom line.

Texans might argue that they have some beautiful real estate too, but in the wide-open spaces surrounding the state’s major urban areas, there is no ocean to constrict growth, and there are far fewer stringent rules. There are no zoning laws in many unincorporated areas beyond the booming urban centers, where Texas has lots of land.

The lower house prices, along with a generally low cost of living–helped along by cheap labor, cheap produce and cheap gas (currently about $3 a gallon)–really matter when it comes to quality of life. For instance, the federal government calculated the Texas poverty rate as 18.4% for 2010 and that of California as about 16%. That may sound bad for Texas, but once adjustments are made for the different costs of living across the two states, as the federal government does in its Supplemental Poverty Measure, Texas’ poverty rate drops to 16.5% and California’s spikes to a dismal 22.4%. Not surprisingly, it is the lower-income residents who are most likely to leave California.

On the flip side, Texas has a higher per capita income than California, adjusted for cost of living, and nearly catches up with New York by the same measure. Once you factor in state and local taxes, Texas pulls ahead of New York–by a wide margin. The website MoneyRates ranks states on the basis of average income, adjusting for tax rates and cost of living; once those factors are accounted for, Texas has the third highest average income (after Virginia and Washington State), while New York ranks 36th.


Of course, it’s not just cheap living that draws people to Texas. It’s also jobs. In the past 12 months, Texas has added 274,700 new jobs–that’s 12% of all jobs added nationwide and 51,000 more than California added. In a Moody’s Analytics study, seven of the top 10 cities for projected job growth through 2015 will be in Texas. Four Texas cities topped the list: Austin, McAllen (in the Rio Grande Valley), Houston and Fort Worth. “For the past 22 years, Texas has outgrown the country by a factor of more than 2 to 1,” Dallas Federal Reserve president Richard Fisher tells TIME, echoing an April speech in which he laid out the story of Texas growth at some length.

“My uninformed friends usually say, ‘But Texas creates low-paying jobs.’ To that I respond, You are right. We create more low-paying jobs in Texas than anybody else,” Fisher says. “But we also created far more high-paying jobs.” In fact, from 2002 to 2011, with 8% of the U.S. population, Texas created nearly one-third of the country’s highest-paying jobs.

“Most importantly,” Fisher says, “while the United States has seen job destruction in the two middle-income quartiles, Texas has created jobs for those vital middle-income workers too.” From 2001 to 2012, the number of lower-middle-income jobs in Texas grew by 14.4%, and the number of upper-middle-income jobs grew by 24.2%. If you look at the U.S. without Texas over the same period, the number of lower-middle jobs grew by an anemic 0.1%, and the number of upper-middle jobs shrank by 6%.

“The bottom line,” says Fisher, is that “we have experienced growth across all sectors and in all income categories … If you pull Texas out of the puzzle of the United States, the rest of the country falls down!”

How did Texas do it?

Texas Monthly senior editor Erica Grieder credits the “Texas model” in her recent book, Big, Hot, Cheap, and Right: What America Can Learn From the Strange Genius of Texas. “The Texas model basically calls for low taxes and low services,” she says. “In a sense, it’s just a limited-government approach.” Chief Executive magazine has named Texas the most growth-friendly state in the nation for nine years in a row. The ranking is based on survey results from its CEO readership, who grade the states on the basis of factors such as taxes and regulation, the quality of the workforce and the living environment. Cheap land, cheap labor and low taxes have all clearly contributed to this business-friendly climate. But that’s not the whole story.

“Certainly since 2008, the beginning of the Great Recession, it’s been the energy boom,” SMU’s Weinstein says, pointing to the resource boom’s ripple effect throughout the Texas economy. However, he says, the job growth predates the energy boom by a significant margin. “A decade ago, before the shale boom, economic growth in Texas was based on IT development,” Weinstein says. “Today most of the job creation, in total numbers, is in business and personal services, from people working in hospitals to lawyers.”

Of course, not everyone’s a fan of the Texas model. “We are not strong economically because we have low taxes and lax regulation. We are strong economically because of geography and geology,” says Scott McCown, a former executive director of the Center for Public Policy Priorities who is now a law professor at the University of Texas. “We’ve built an economy favoring the wealthy … If that’s the ultimate end result of the Texas model in a democratic society, it will be rejected.”

So will the rest of the country follow Texas’ lead? People are already voting with their feet. The places in the U.S. seeing significant in-migration are largely in relatively inexpensive parts of the Sun Belt. These are, by and large, affordable states with decent records of job creation–often with subpar public services and low taxes. Texas is just the most striking example. But Oklahoma, Colorado, the Carolinas and other parts of the South are benefiting from the same trends–namely that California, New York and the other high-tax, high-cost states are no longer such good deals for much of the U.S.’s middle and lower-middle classes.

The Americans heading to Texas and other cheap-living states are a bit like the mythical cowboys of our past–self-reliant, for better or worse.


For Americans heading to these places, the likelihood is that they’ll be facing slow-growing, stagnant or even falling wages. Yet it won’t be the dystopia that it may sound like at first. Automation and globalization don’t just make a lot of goods and services much cheaper–they sometimes make them free. There is already plenty of free online education, graded by computer bots, and free music on YouTube. Hulu and related online viewing services are allowing Americans to free up some money by cutting the cable cord. Facebook soaks up a lot of our free time, and it doesn’t cost a dime. The near future likely will bring free or very cheap online medical diagnosis.

This suggests that wages and GDP statistics may no longer be the most accurate gauges of real living standards. A new class of Americans will become far more numerous. They will despair at finding good middle-class jobs and decide to live off salaries that are roughly comparable to today’s lower-middle-class incomes. Some will give up trying so hard–but it won’t matter as much as it used to, because they won’t have to be big successes to live relatively well.

“The world of work is changing, and what we are learning is it’s no longer about the 9-to-5, it’s about the work itself,” says Gary Swart, CEO of oDesk, a global job marketplace that sells tools to allow businesses to hire and manage remote workers. “Millennials, they are about how to make an impact … They want freedom in their lives, and they care more about that than they do the financial rewards.”

For an example of one of these “new cowboys,” take Joe Swec. For most of his life, Swec, 32, has lived in beautiful (and, he notes, expensive) places. Born in the San Francisco Bay Area, he graduated from California Polytechnic State University with a degree in structural engineering and went to work in Healdsburg, working on the construction and restoration of several Sonoma County wineries. Then he headed south to work in Malibu. But he was not content.

“I wanted a career change,” he says. “I wanted to do something more creative, and I would fantasize about being an artist.”

So five years ago, Swec moved to Austin. “My friends thought I was crazy–why would I move to Texas?” he says. “They also wondered why I would leave a six-figure job. I saw it differently. I wanted my job to give me a happy life.”

After moving, Swec first worked as a bartender, then as a waiter. Then he got a job doing silk screens for a design company. Inspiration came along when he came across papers his grandfather had collected–scrapbooks filled with calligraphy and hand lettering. He found he had an affinity for the art of lettering, and as he worked on an outdoor mural, he wondered why he didn’t do this for a living. So he took up a career as a sign painter.

His hand-lettered signs now appear on the walls and doorways of some of Austin’s newest, liveliest restaurants and pubs. “My friends out in California don’t understand why I like it here,” Swec says. “But I have just developed a fondness for the local way of life.”

In the coming decades, some people may even go to extremes in low-cost living, like making their home in micro-houses (of, say, about 400 sq. ft. and costing $20,000 to $40,000) or going off the grid entirely. Brad Kittel, owner of Tiny Texas Houses, blogs about his small homes built from salvaged materials at tinytexashouses.com His business, based in the small rural community of Luling, east of San Antonio, offers custom homes, plans, and lessons on how to be a salvage miner. So far he has built about 75 tiny homes, and he has plans for a tiny-home community built around a sort of central lodge house. Kittel, 57, is a former Austin developer who pioneered the gentrification of a crumbling East Austin neighborhood in the late 1980s. These days most of his buyers are baby boomers. “Downsizing was just a whisper. Now it’s turning into a mantra,” Kittel says. “My generation, we were accumulators–big houses, big cars. But now we have no big resources.”

The micro-home trend is being watched by traditional homebuilders as well. Texas-based developer D.R. Horton, a member of the New York Stock Exchange and one of the largest homebuilders in the country, built 29 micro-homes sized from 364 to 687 sq. ft. in Portland, Ore., last year for an average price of $120,000 to $180,000–admittedly far from the company’s headquarters in spacious Fort Worth.

In some ways, the new settlements of a Texas-like America could come to resemble trailer parks–culturally rich trailer parks, so to speak. The next Brooklyn may end up somewhere in the Dakotas. Fargo, anyone?

Nonetheless, America, a historically flexible nation in cultural and economic terms, will adjust. One of our saving graces may end up being just how wasteful we’ve been in the past. It will be possible for many consumers to cut back significantly on spending without losing too much in terms of material well-being and happiness.

The new frugality born of the Great Recession is unlikely to give way to the old conspicuous consumption anytime soon, if consumer studies are to be believed. Nick Hodson, a partner and member of the consumer and retail practice at Booz & Co., points to his company’s 2012 study of 2,000 grocery shoppers across the country. The study found that “value-seeking behavior” was here to stay.

“The recession caused about 20 to 30% more shoppers to adopt these behaviors as they adjusted to straitened personal circumstances or simply followed a set of perceived ‘acceptable’ frugal behaviors,” the study concluded. “Today, 75 to 90% of consumers are exhibiting these frugal shopping behaviors. What’s important is that a majority–perhaps two-thirds–of the newly frugal shoppers report that they will not revert to their previous behaviors as the recession ends.”


There are, of course, major downsides to the future I’m describing here. A lot of health care will become more expensive and harder to access. Many Americans will have to downsize their living quarters involuntarily. People in the shrinking middle class who want to have more than one child may find the costs too high. There is no longer the expectation, much less the guarantee, that living standards double or even increase much with each generation.

But it’s not all bad news–especially if we take the right steps to prepare. The flood of Americans moving to Texas shows us where we need to focus our attention; what these migrants have found in Texas shows us ways many of our cities and states can improve.

Most critically, across the country, our K-12 education system needs to be much more rigorous, so that more Americans will be prepared to succeed in the new high-tech era to come. Right now, labor markets and jobs are changing faster than schools, and that means graduates are being left behind. Education at all levels needs to be cheaper and easier to access–and family support for students needs to be much stronger as well.

There are also many small but important ways in which states and cities can adjust in order to incorporate some of the lessons Texas has to teach.

For instance, states could deregulate building so that rents and home prices could be much lower. Housing is one of the biggest costs in most people’s budgets, and it will be difficult to bring those costs down without greater competition and significantly higher urban density. In other words: San Francisco needs to become more like Houston when it comes to zoning.

Likewise, it would be a tremendous boon for low-skilled workers if we scaled back much of the occupational licensing that exists at the state and local levels. There’s no reason a worker should need legal permission to become, say, a barber or a cosmetologist, as is currently the case in many states. Is there any good reason that Nevada, Louisiana, Florida and the District of Columbia should require interior designers to take 2,190 hours of training and pass an exam before having the legal right to practice? By relaxing these and many other requirements, we could create a lot more decent jobs and lower prices for consumers at the same time.

A little more freedom in strategically targeted areas–that is, a little more Texas–could go a long way.

Don’t be scared. As Tara Connolly found, Texas is a welcoming place: “Everyone is just so friendly, and they look you in the eye.” And she wouldn’t even think of going back to New York City. “The constant stress doesn’t seem appealing,” she says. “The cost was insane, and it was time to start fresh. This was a good place to try.”

–Reported by Hilary Hylton/Austin

Cowen is a professor of economics at George Mason University. He is the author of Average Is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation (Dutton, 2013).

The original version of this article misstated the number of Californians who have moved to Texas. More than 4 million people have moved out of California over the last 20 years, according to economist Bernard Weinstein at Southern Methodist University, and about one-third of those migrants moved to Texas.

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