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Texas Politics - Texas Political Culture
Barry McBee on popular opinion re: taxes and services in Texas Barry McBee on popular opinion re: taxes and services in Texas
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Transformation of the Texas economy Transformation of the Texas economy
4.    Economic Dimensions of Texas Political Culture

The economy provides an essential context for understanding the political culture of Texas. It can help shape the political culture in both specific and general ways.

In a video segment in section 1 of this chapter, UT Austin anthropologist Richard Flores illustrates how major economic innovations in agriculture and transportation in Texas set the stage for specific transformations of the economy - specifically, the creation of commercial agriculture and the attendant pushing of middle-class Mexican Americans lower in the class structure. This process in turn reduced Mexican American political power and permitted a negative recasting of their identity in the broader culture. Although Flores focuses in his comments (and in his academic work) on the meanings attached to the Alamo, his analysis illustrates a more general point: developments in the economy can and do shape specific political perceptions and stereotypes - and the relative political power of the various sectors of society.

On a more general level, the economy can shape the dominant ideals, values, and concerns of society. As sections 2.0 and 2.1 of this chapter discuss, the economic hallmarks of the state's political culture have been - and continue to be - an emphasis on entrepreneurship, wealth, and a deeply entrenched aversion to taxes and the provision of government services, especially for the poor. Nevertheless, these ideals and values aren't static. They evolve in response to the general trajectory of the economy. Recently, as more middle class Texans become ever more worried about the state's ability to support core services, especially public education, the "low taxes, low services" consensus will continue to come under increasing scrutiny. These developments are highlighted by experienced political appointee Barry McBee's observation in a video excerpt from a 2002 interview that "we get what we pay for" in terms of state services.

Still, the seemingly reflexive support among wide swaths of the population for the low-taxes, low services approach to government remains deeply rooted in the mixture of class liberalism and social conservatism that is central to Texas political culture. The support this approach enjoys in the business community - entrenched as it is at the center of the state's political process - makes it even more durable. Much public discussion and several legislative efforts to address the issues McBee discusses have taken place since that interview, yet no fundamental changes in either the tax structure or the system of school funding have been implemented. [2] So, although the general socio-economic consensus has been shown to come under stress caused by changes in the economy, it has changed little.

An in-depth look at the intersection between the economy and politics can be found in the Texas Politics chapter on the political economy. The objective of this section and the subsection that follows is to underscore how the dynamics of the economy shape and reflect the state's culture in ways that have political consequences. The next section briefly looks at two related dimensions of the contemporary Texas economy that inform the character of the state's political culture: patterns in the distribution of wealth and the regional variation of economic development in the state. A general understanding of the development of the Texas economy helps place both of these factors in context. This chapter's feature entitled The Transformation of the Texas Economy provides an overview of the distinct phases of development of the Texas economy since the last years of Spanish rule in the early 1820s.

2 House Research Organization, "Schools and Taxes: A Summary of Legislation of the 2006 Special Session." Focus Report 79-13, May 25, 2006.

Texas Politics:
© 2009, Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services
University of Texas at Austin
3rd Edition - Revision 115
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