Come to Texas: Can Tyler Cowen Say "FM Radio"?

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 11/01/2013 09:52:00 AM
Koch Industries of Tea Party fame-funded arch-libertarian Tyler Cowen has an interesting piece in TIME about how Texas is America's future. Having stayed there for a time, I am of somewhat more mixed opinions about its virtues and vices than he is. Read for yourselves and see what you think.

Before you do so, I have two things to point out: First, he seems to have thrown his lot with the Internet-makes-our-lives-so-much-better crowd in arguing that, actually, our standards of living have improved immeasurably because of it:
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.
If I were a leftist, I'd say that this Koch Industries-funded arch-libertarian is trying to excuse growing income inequality Stateside by arguing that the Internet has improved the quality of our lives anyway, so economic disparities and wage stagnation don't really matter. You can raise any number of objections to this idea, from the Internet making us rather misanthropic to its essentially inegalitarian premises. That said, "free music on YouTube" is a most curious elision: Has Cowen never heard of FM radio--"free music"? For over half a century and most especially so in poor countries, the transistor radio has been the dominant source of free music. What's more, YouTube is not really quite as costless as FM radio since you have to pay for that Internet connection. 

Next, Cowen's Koch Industries funders may not be so happy with the idea that people are moving to Texas to take advantage of "European" lifestyles: less work, more quality of life:
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."
I hope this sort of "European" argument is taken in stride by the Tea Party crowd, guardians of whatever remains of the Protestant Work Ethic and other cornerstones of their conception of being "American" lest the people Europeans [eek!].  If Senator Joseph McCarthy were still around, Cowen would probably have been called by the House Un-American Activities Committee by now.

As the Beach Boys sing, I guess that's why God made the radio.