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Texas Politics - Political Economy
6.    Conclusion

The political economy encompasses an extensive, multi-layered, and complex structure that includes the government, economy, and society. Even those social groups and geographic areas that are relatively excluded from the benefits of the political economy constitute key components of the larger system that distributes the society's resources.

Complex interactions shape the character of the Texas political economy. Powerful interests compete (horizontally) with each other as much or more than they compete (vertically) with the lower and middle classes. This may be because the lower and middle classes are much less influential in proactively driving the agenda of state government. The struggle over who gets what and pays what, where, when and how, provides the animating energy for state and local politics. Your land for a highway is my state park. My healthcare industry funding (and, coincidentally, health insurance for the poor) is your business development fund. The well water for your ranch is my opportunity to sell to thirsty customers hundreds of miles away. And so on. Aside from conflicts over the allocation of existing resources, the overall size of the pool of rewards remains limited by the broad insistence on limiting taxation.

The performance of the Texas political economy within these constraints is at best mixed. Yes, the gross output of the state economy is huge. And, yes, the overall productive structure rests on a much broader and diversified base than even just two decades ago. Still, some of that success resulted from the state's considerable natural resource endowment and from the increasing integration of the national economy in the post World War II period - factors beyond the reach of state-level decision making.

In the areas of social development and fairness, the Lone Star State's political economy can be fairly judged as dismal. The state system for raising revenue relies primarily on regressive mechanisms like the sales tax, user fees, and licenses. Investment per capita in education is low, resulting in poor overall performance of Texas students on national tests like the SAT. State support for health care for the poor is limited. Huge numbers are locked away in state prisons. The state's environmental record is poor. Even the state court system has been shown to systematically favor business interests over those of consumers and the public at large.

The prospects for improvement of the quality of services such as public education, for any substantial increase in the fairness of our state political economy, and for improvements in the well-being of poor and working class Texans are dim. The political economy has evolved over decades, and any fundamental changes will come slowly. New opportunities for popular political organization, participation, and activism could help blunt some of the system's worst tendencies. Yet any changes hinge not only on organization and participation, but also on changes in some of the fundamental matters of agreement among Texas - chief among them the fundamental reluctance to create the new, broad-based sources of revenue necessary to dramatically improve the delivery of services that would benefit large numbers of Texans.

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