Thursday, September 15, 2011

"Maybe it's what they don't have."

About halfway through Atlas Shrugged, the weak businessman, Mr. Mowen, sees an anonymous worker lashing down machinery on a flatcar.  The reader knows the worker to be Owen Kellogg.  The production tools are on their way to Colorado.  Mr. Mowen does not understand why a firm would abandon its traditional home.  "What have they got in Colorado?"  he asks.  The worker replies, "Maybe it's what they don't have."

Austin has homeless people living under the freeways; and beggars stand at freeway exits.  Like Michigan, Texas has government offices for handing out grants to businesses that promise to "create jobs."  Unlike Michigan, here is a culture of self-reliance and enterprise.  It's 100 degrees and a woman is standing in a median, selling bottles of water.  You can get 70 cents a pound for aluminum; and poor people walk the streets picking up cans.  (In Michigan, 10 cents a can is not enough incentive any more.)  The other day, when I went down to the dumpster, three guys were were pulling out an iron bed frame to add to the load in their truck.  Saturday night is party night and so Sunday morning, they were back, retrieving beer cans.

The Ann Arbor News closed in July 2009.  Here, I have the Austin American-Statesman, but also, both the Chronicle and The Onion, as well as a slew of lesser banners, more than I can gather up and bring home.  

Texas Gov. Rick Perry has much of the same political baggage as his northern cousin, Michigan governor Rick Snyder.  Rick Perry likes to take credit for the boom here in Texas.  Basically, the governor and the government are irrelevant, except as they reflect a wider culture.  

Monday, I got a haircut for $5.95, half the going rate in Michigan.  Unionization in Michigan pushed up wages past the margin of utility.  I pointed this out to my wife, who countered that waitresses make the same low wages in both places.  But that is not exactly correct.  Here, restaurants cost less.  There, tips are the same percentage, but of a higher dollar total.  Here, $5.95 goes as far as $11.00 there.  The difference is measured in the number of idle people in Michigan waiting for Gov. Rick Snyder to bring them an employer. 

The general truths are easy to find.  I found them recently in an anthology,  The Invention of Enterprise: Entrepreneurship from Ancient Mesopotamia to Modern Times, David S. Landes, Joel Mokyr, and William J. Baumol, eds., which I reviewed for The Libertarian Papers here.  Many of the same facts appear in The Economy of Cities by Jane Jacobs and in Max Weber's City.  I simply found a place where enterprise already is active and welcome because here there is less entitlement, less interference, less regulation.  It is not perfect, but it is better.

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