There exists a somewhat fringe political philosophy that hovers, at least in practice, around the far edges of modern right-wing politics in the West. It’s called libertarianism, and its adherents are usually idiots who think that the government is evil and should be abolished, and that taxes are the work of the devil.
Now, in most places, people who want to abolish government are at the very least laughed at, and more extreme reactions can be obtained depending on those people’s apparent mental state and available armaments. In America however, land of the easily manipulated, the idea government isn’t really needed is seen as patriotic. In fairness, when you remember that your revolutionary war was fought over a 3% tax, it can be hard to reconcile your yearly returns with the foundational ideologies of the republic.
Nonetheless, there are only a few places where libertarian ideals continue to make a real impact, and two of these are the subject of today’s article: Silicon Valley and Texas. Libertarianism in some form or another has been adopted into the identity of these two regions, and now the philosophy has left them inextricably linked.
Let me back it up for you a bit first. You can tell when something’s been hovering around the news cycle for a while because editors start to play it fast and loose with quotations. They’ll take shorthand terms for events or trends and throw on a pair of quotations and call it a day. For example, post-pandemic coverage of tech companies that are moving headquarters, like HP and Oracle, refer to a Silicon Valley “exodus” like its a common term.
First of all, nobody should be using the word “exodus” anymore, it’s not 1200 BC, and second of all, who are you quoting news editors? I wanna know who the first person was that thought ‘you know what word we should bring back? Exodus. What a classic crowd-pleaser.” Shut up, nerd. Anyway, my point is that since the pandemic began, the trend of ditching Silicon Valley in favour of greener pastures — usually in Texas or Miami — has started picking up mainstream steam.
There are a bunch of different reasons for this, so we’ll start with the ones that don’t have as much to do with politics because those are the ones I care less about and I want to get them out of the way. The big one is that it’s just fucking expensive to live in California. Compared to the coast, housing is like half off in Texas which is a huge incentive, especially as a new generation enters the workforce with dwindling prospects for homeownership. The other is pandemic related, as tech giants have moved to allow employees to work from home permanently or semi-permanently, meaning they don’t have to live in the valley anymore.
But the reasons for my interest in the tech “exodus” are a lot less logistics oriented. These next factors are much more political, and much more ideologically motivated. From a capitalist business side, California asks for more taxes and it regulates its marketplace much more strictly. Because lawmakers have historically been so slow to act on the problems created by the tech industry, such as labour issues and antitrust, companies feel entitled to the immunity they had so long enjoyed while milking us for money. It would be much more preferable for them to just go somewhere else where politicians won’t bother them so much.
And from a social politics side, California is overwhelmingly populated by democrats who continue to suggest that the white male CEOs of these companies consider abdicating some of their enormous power for the sake of everyone else, which is something they don’t love to be surrounded with. In a couple of high profile cases, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs have been vocal in their backlash against an overwhelmingly liberal culture that they think discriminates against conservative voices and blah blah whatever you pussies.
High profile renunciations of Silicon Valley and California culture have come from celebrities like Elon Musk, Peter Thiel, and the founder of Oculus, Palmer Luckey, who alleges he was fired for his part in a 2016 anti-Hillary meme page.
A billboard commissioned by Luckey's meme group in Pittsburgh
So these are the types of people Texas is attracting. But why? I already mentioned that it’s cheaper, so that’s a factor, but there’s certainly more to it than that. Another factor could easily be the politics. If there really is some sort of institutional backlash against Democrats within the tech industry, then a consistent red state like Texas could feel more like home. Then again, it’s only a vocal minority of industry players that are put out by the skewed Overton window of the west coast, and every year Texas threatens to swing more blue as cities like Austin grow at inordinately fast rates.
I think the connection between Silicon Valley and Texas lies with something deeper. It’s important to remember that the khaki cowboys that made the Valley into what it is now held the early philosophy that computer technology should be open-sourced and free, which is an idea that represents a different, left-wing style of libertarianism. When Microsoft and other companies began to patent their software, and capitalism took over, the industry maintained that libertarian attitude, but adjusted for greed.
This is similar to the attitudes of Texan titans of industry, which have operated with a high degree of independence since the beginning of the second industrial revolution and the start of our unkickable oil habit. And public opinion sides with fans of limited government as well. Their senator, Ted Cruz, was a member of the Tea Party, and was responsible for the third-longest government shutdown in history. The markets in the second largest state (tough to lose to Alaska) are deregulated enough as it is, so I doubt the state legislature would be as tough on the tech companies as has been Sacramento.
It’s likely that all of these contribute to an attractive landscape for many tech companies, but to be clear, it’s not as if Silicon Valley is gonna turn into a ghost town. Texas isn’t even really that close to usurping the heavyweight either, and recently, that attractive deregulated landscape has shown to be a lot sketchier than the potential migrants might have bargained for.
This past week, a winter storm swept through the southern states leaving 58 dead. The temperatures in Texas got down to as low as like a mid-April storm up here, but this was enough to knock the whole state’s power grid offline for days, and sub-zero nights with no power is fucking scary, no matter what country you’re in.
A major contributor to the blackouts was the lack of regulation for the Texas power grid which allowed it to fail to meet the surge in demand triggered by the storm. Their grid is also completely independent, owing I assume to the state’s libertarian cultural affinity, and so they were unable to import power from elsewhere in the country. I should mention that these provisions are in fact successful in lowering the cost to the consumer, but given the events of the past week, I’m not sure if the tradeoff was worth it.
The snow-covered Dallas skyline lay dark for much of last week due to blackouts
Politicians responded to the infrastructural failure by blaming an overreliance on clean energy for not meeting the demand, but analysts, including Texas government sources, have said that it was more of a complete failure, and that the majority of losses came from frozen natural gas pipelines, which is where most of Texas’ energy comes from.
It’s clear that after the freeze, there will have to be big discussions about whether a deregulated energy market is the best for consumers. In terms of price, maybe, but in terms of safety, certainly not. And we’ve seen that exact same conclusion come out of our experiences with the tech industry on the international scale. The bottom line is that deregulated markets often end up detrimental to everyday people, and the tech industry may have found, in the Texas government, a kindred spirit with which to share in not giving a shit about that. Ted Cruz sure didn’t give a shit when he was on his way to Mexico.
As the 21st century entrepreneurial zeitgeist gets ready to move on from its 20th century mecca, Silicon Valley’s techno-libertarian turned accelerated capitalist business porn of an industry is looking to one of the only states where it still might be able to behave badly once everyone else instructs them not to, and if Texas isn’t willing at least to put some backup measures in place, both as the environment deteriorates, and as tech companies become more powerful and more strident in the face of government regulation, we could very well just be screwed. Like Ted Cruz’s wife. And me. At the same time. In front of Ted Cruz. Because he’s a cuck.