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TexasWorld: Freedom, Room for All (a mental experiment)

To illustrate that the world is not in any meaningful way overpopulated, Julian Simon noted that if everyone in the world moved to Texas, each person would still have about 1,800 square feet of living space. Enough room for a family of four to live in an average size house with a front and back yard.

Since Simon made these calculations in The Ultimate Resource 2, the world’s population has grown. Recalculating for a world of 6 billion is 1,500 square feet per person, which still leaves 6,000 square feet for a family of four (a still comfortable 60- by-100-foot lot, with plenty of space for multiple story living).

But what about the roads, parks, lakes, shopping malls, my students ask? If I say everyone in the world could live in Texas, they want to know about the amenities. Yes, the free-market system has an astonishing ability to respond to the unexpected, from everyday shifts in demand to hurricanes and other disasters. But if everyone moved to Texas, could markets coordinate the efforts and ingenuity of millions of entrepreneurs and businessmen in building the necessary infrastructure, homes, apartments, etc.?

Markets provide the information about relative scarcity and prices provide the incentives for millions or billions of people to coordinate their responses. F. A. Hayek’s seminal article, “The Use of Knowledge in Society,” uses a disaster to tell its story of the power of prices and market. It starts with a flood in a copper mine in Chile.

So the importance of explaining how markets help society deal with emergencies is to help inoculate people against government “emergency measures” the next time a disaster strikes.

Immigration

A separate reason why this kind of thought experiment is useful follows from the distortions caused by decades of interventionist immigration policies in America and around the world. When libertarians argue for open immigration and for the U.S. to remove immigration barriers, a difficult issue is the practical one of adjustment from the status quo to a free system.

People respond to calls for ending U.S. immigration restrictions by saying that if we opened the borders now, millions of immigrants would flood in from Mexico and South America, and tens of millions might quickly travel here from China and India. How could markets handle that?

Well, that many wouldn’t “flood” in, but if they did markets would adjust, and most people, Americans as well as others around the world, would be better off for it. The point of economic analysis and population-oriented thought experiments is to illustrate why and how.

Interventionism

Another reason to spend time with futuristic scenarios is to promote understanding of the optimistic perspective on technology, on market economies and on people. Most of the problems people associate with “over” population or population growth are really problem caused by the lack of the rule of law, clearly defined property rights, and enforceable contracts.

Problems in New York City like high rents and a shortage of housing have their origin in long-standing rent controls, housing regulations, and other government interventions that restrict new housing. Traffic congestion and a creaky, cranky transit system is caused by government’s mismanaged monopoly roads and mass transit. So the main congestion problems of daily life in New York City would be solved with private property, enforceable contracts and open markets.

Back to Texas

The problems of daily life in west Texas are not so easily solved. West Texas has lots empty land–empty of people. Even the cattle are lonely. Across tens of thousands of square miles of often beautiful scenery, are few cities and towns. West Texas cities like Lubbock, Amarillo, San Angelo and Midland are like oases in the desert.

Texas was a better place in 2010 with 25 million people than in 2000 with 21 million people, or 1980 with 14.2 million or 1960 with 9.6 million or 1900 with 3 million. I simply argue Texas would be a better place still in 2015 with 6 billion people living free and living large.

I’ve visited Aix-en-Provence in the south of France for Summer University and Institute for Economic Studies-Europe seminars for college students. The city is beautiful and densely populated. Narrow cobblestone roads run between six- to eight-story apartment buildings, most with shops on street level. The main street through town, a marvelous wide boulevard feature fountains and endless cafes.

If I were building a housing development and tourist attraction in Texas, I would invite thousands of stone masons and other construction workers to build this part of paradise in a freer state in a for-now freer country.

In Texas, freedom is a stronger tradition than in most of the country. For one thing the federal government owns very little land in Texas, unlike the rest of the country and especially the west were the federal government owns 50% of the land. Texas came into the union as a sovereign state, so most land stayed or became private property.

Viva Las Vegas

Have you been to Las Vegas lately? It is not just a place for gambling. It is becoming a place for tourists as well. Perhaps Las Vegas looked at a map of the U.S. twenty years ago, noticed many Indian reservations, and expected stiff competition for future gamblers.

But Las Vegas seems like an odd place for a tourist destination, unless you have never seen a desert before. The nearby mountains are beautiful at sunrise and sunset. But like Aix-en-Provence, the tourist attraction is not the countryside, it is the city and it’s buildings and shops and boulevards and people.

Las Vegas now has buildings and shops and boulevards to attract tourists. You can visit Venice, Paris, New York, Ancient Egypt and Rome. In the Venetian you can ride in a gondola to the piazza and sit “outside” in the cool midday air sipping cappuccino. P.J. O’Rourke says it has everything Venice does, except the stink.

The Paris Casino has a mini-Eiffel Tower great breads from French pastry shops and buffets of fine French foods. Many of the workers are from French-speaking Romania however, so lack the skill of delivering an authentic French insult.

So I would try to impress upon the Texas government the brilliance of this strategy of inviting the world’s great cities to relocate to Texas.

First we would have to assure investors that Texas would have the population to fill millions, even billions of new homes and apartments. And for that Texas could apply, as Iowa has, for a waiver from federal immigration restrictions. Iowa’s population dropped nearly 5% from 1980 to 1990. Restrictive immigration policies have contributed to the reduced population in hundreds of Midwestern cities and towns. So Iowa and many other less-populated cities, including many in update New York are trying to attract more immigrants.

In Texas we would need hundreds of billions of dollars in housing construction and infrastructure in order to accommodate billions of new immigrants. The good news is that there are hundreds of millions of really poor people in the world who are looking for work. They don’t know it maybe, but they are really looking for freedom, and looking for freedom to work in all the wrong places. They should look in Texas. They should have cards that read “Have Poverty; Will Travel.”

So new Texas World cities could be constructed with world labor. Texas is a big enough place, and with enough coastline, I would recommend establishing Charter Cities and Startup Cities along the Texas coast. New port city to compete with Galveston and Houston. The new charters could be based on those that have worked so well for Hong Kong and Singapore, still among the freest city in the world. Let Hong Kong investors finance this new city and port. And they could easily find millions of people to begin construction.

In fact, construction could be financed in part by the impoverished Chinese immigrants themselves. In 2000 the going rate for getting to New York illegally from China was around $40,000. Offer Texas citizenship to anyone investing $40,000 in this new Hong Kong, Texas. Ten million Chinese immigrants would bring 400 billion investment dollars to Texas. That should be enough to get things started.

Of course, most impoverished Chinese people don’t have $40,000. They borrow it confident they will be able to find work in New York City and other thriving U.S. cities, save enough in a few years to pay back their transport creditors.

In and around new Texas Startup Cities would be factories and farms providing jobs and food. Elsewhere in Texas would be New Bombay and New New Delhi, maybe along new hi-tech corridors like I-35 between Austin and San Antonio. Millions of highly educated and English-speaking people from India would bring inexpensive programming skills as well as hundreds of other skills to Texas (while their parents run the motels).

Americans have long liked to believe they are a special people, somehow uniquely capable and deserving of the stunning wealth created and enjoyed in America. But it is liberty that is unique to America and the western world of the last couple hundred years. Rose Wilder Lane tries to describe this astonishing force of nature, the power of free people in the beginning of her book, The Discovery of Freedom:

China to Texas

One of the interesting things about TexasWorld is the boost in worldwide growth rates that Texas freedom could ignite. Academics and commentators get excited when they average growth rates in China of 7% or 8%. But every Chinese immigrant to the U.S. enjoys an individual economic growth rate of maybe 1000% the first year: from $100 a month income to $1,000 and then maybe another 100% the second year to $2,000 a month.

Chinese people moving to the U.S. can be a more effective a way to boost prosperity and economic development than shipping capital to China.

Perhaps the greatest loss of human prosperity over the sixty years was the billion Chinese locked up in China under communist rule. How many billions of hours of creative human endeavor were lost? How many hundreds of millions of lifetimes of business achievement and entrepreneurship lost? How many tens of millions of lifetimes stolen from engineering development, medical research and scientific discovery? We should reflect not only on how miserably these billion plus Chinese people have lived under Communist rule but also how much the world lost when these minds and bodies were mostly isolated from the world.

China could have easily followed the course of Singapore in 1950. The president of Singapore was also a communist, but he inadvertently deregulated the Singapore economy and discovered the benefits of markets. Chinese in China could have had the same per capita income as Chinese in Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

This gives us a sense of what would result from liberating hundreds of millions of Chinese not over the next decades as China hopefully liberalizes, but over next two or three years with entrepreneurial Chinese people living free in Texas.

The first generation of hard labor and long hours can offer their children (plural!) advanced educations as engineers, research scientists and entrepreneurs. (Everyone time I chatted with workers in Chinese restaurants when I lived in Houston, they were working on engineering degrees at area colleges.)

Conclusion

TexasWorld is a mental experiment of how one great free state can take on the world for fun and profit. 

If Las Vegas can do it, Texas can. If China cannot do it, Texas can.

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Gregory Rehmke, Program director for Economic Thinking, is a leading educator of high school students through debate programs.  He can be reached at grehmke@gmail.com.

2 comments

1 Wayne Lusvardi { 03.21.14 at 3:04 am }

Interesting think piece.

Would Texas have enough water resources to accommodate the world’s population. I attempted a rough estimate of how much additional population Texas could accommodate as follows:

Average annual rainfall 2.89 feet per year average
Total square miles 268,581
Total acres (x 640 acres per sq. mile)
= 171,891,840 acres total
x 2.89 feet of water
= 496,767,418 acre feet of water
minus 70% evaporation loss (347,737,193)
=149,030,225 net acre feet of developable water
minus 9,500,000 acre feet agriculture irrigation
minus 6,700,000 acre feet municipal and industrial
minus 296,230 acre feet oil & gas extraction
= 132,533,995 acre feet net excess potential water per year
divide by 0.76-acre foot of household water use per year
x 3.0 persons per household average
= 523,160,506 potential added persons per excess water
minus 0.36-acre foot of water per person for irrigation for food
minus 188,337,782 acre feet for farming irrigation
= 334,822,724 potential added person per net excess water

So purely hypothetically Texas could accommodate about one third of a billion more people or 4.6% of the world’s population on its existing water resources (assuming no diversion of water from other states).

In words, not numbers, Texas could accommodate about one third of a billion more people with its water resources (if its water system was expanded to capture, convey, and treat all water not lost to evaporation). So Texas still has a lot of room to grow even when its most limited resource – water – is considered. The problem is not a shortage of water per se but capture, storage, treatment and conveyance. Despite drought and man-made water shortages, water is an abundant resource in Texas if managed wisely.

2 KuhnKat { 03.21.14 at 5:35 pm }

Yes, your thought experiment would work beautifully except for interventionism. The current Federal and many state laws of the US over regulate and redistribute so that your experiment would fail miserably. How do we change the laws?!?!?!

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