How The South Will Rise To Power Again


The common media view of the South is as a regressive region, full of overweight, prejudiced, exploited and undereducated numbskulls . This meme was perfectly captured in this Bill Maher-commissioned video from Alexandra Pelosi, the New York-based daughter of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Given the level of imbecility, maybe we’d be better off if the former Confederate states exiled themselves into their own redneck empire. Travel writer Chuck Thompson recently suggested this approach in a new book. Right now, however, Northeners can content themselves with the largely total isolation of Southerners from the corridors of executive power.

Yet even as the old Confederacy’s political banner fades, its long-term economic prospects shine bright. This derives from factors largely outside the control of Washington: demographic trends, economic growth patterns, state business climates, flows of foreign investment and, finally and most surprisingly, a shift of educated workers and immigrants to an archipelago of fast-growing urban centers.

Perhaps the most persuasive evidence lies with  the strong and persistent inflow of Americans to the South. The South still attracts the most domestic migrants of any U.S. region. Last year, it boasted six of the top eight states in terms of net domestic migration — Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee, South Carolina and Georgia. Texas and Florida alone gained 250,000 net migrants. The top four losers were deep blue New York, Illinois, New Jersey and California.

These trends suggest that the South will expand its dominance as the nation’s most populous region. In the 1950s, the South, the Northeast and the Midwest each had about the same number of people. Today the region is almost as populous as the Northeast and the Midwest combined.

Perhaps more importantly, these states are nurturing families, in contrast to the Great Lakes states, the Northeast and California. Texas, for example, has increased its under 10 population by over 17% over the past decade; all the former confederate states, outside of Katrina-ravaged Mississippi and Louisiana, gained between 5% and 10%. On the flip side, under 10 populations declined in Illinois, Michigan, New York and California. Houston, Austin, Dallas, Charlotte, Atlanta and Raleigh also saw their child populations rise by at least twice the 10% rate of the rest country over the past decade while New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston and Chicago areas experienced declines.

Why are people moving to what the media tends to see as a backwater? In part, it’s because economic growth in the South has outpaced the rest of the country for a generation and the area now constitutes by far the largest economic region in the country. A recent analysis by Trulia projects the edge will widen in the rest of this decade, sparked by such factors as lower costs and warmer weather.

But some of this comes as a result of conscious policy. With their history of poverty and underdevelopment, Southern states are motivated to be business friendly. They generally have lower taxes, and less stringent regulations, than their primary competitors in the Northeast or on the West Coast. Indeed this year the four best states for business, according to CEO Magazine, were Texas, Florida, North Carolina and Tennessee. They are also much less unionized, an important factor for foreign and expanding domestic firms.

Despite a tough time in the Great Recession, overall unemployment in the region now is less than in either the West or the Northeast. As manufacturing has recovered, employment has rebounded quicker in the Southeast than in the rival Great Lakes region.

A portent of the future can be seen in new investment from U.S.-based and foreign companies. Last year Texas, Louisiana, Georgia and North Carolina were four of the six leading destinations for new corporate facilities.

Some of this growth is centered on the automobile industry, which is increasingly focused on the southern tier from South Carolina to Alabama. The other big industrial expansion revolves around the unconventional oil and gas boom. The region that spans the Gulf Coast from Corpus Christi to New Orleans includes the country’s largest concentration of oil refineries and petrochemical facilities. In 2011 the two largest capital investments in North America — both tied to natural gas production — were in Louisiana.

In the long run some critics suggest that the region’s historically lower education levels ensure that it will remain second-rate. Every state in the Southeast falls below the national average of the percentage of residents aged 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree.

Yet the education gap is shrinking, particularly in the South’s growing metropolitan areas. Over the past decade, the number of college graduates in Austin and Charlotte grew by a remarkable 50%; Baton Rouge, Nashville, Houston, Tampa, Dallas and Atlanta all expanded their educated populations by 35% or more. (See “The U.S. Cities Getting Smarter The Fastest“) This easily eclipsed the performance of such “brain center” metropolitan areas as Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco or Chicago. Then there’s the question of critical mass; Atlanta alone added more than 300,000 residents with bachelor’s degrees over the past decade, more than Philadelphia and Miami and almost 70,000 more than Boston.

Perhaps more revealing, an analysis by Praxis Strategy Group suggest a good portion of these new educated residents are coming from places such as greater New York, Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles. The South’s new breed of carpetbaggers increasingly bring  diplomas, skills and high wage jobs with them. The main attraction: not only jobs, but lower housing prices, lower taxes and, overall, a more affordable quality of life.

Rather than some comic-book version of a sleepy old south, the South’s dynamic metropolitan regions — not surprisingly, among the nation’s fastest growing — represent the real future of the region. They are becoming more diverse in every way. Houston and Dallas are already immigrant hotbeds; Nashville. Charlotte, Atlanta, Raleigh and Orlando all have among the nation’s fastest-growing foreign populations.

Growth in the South, as elsewhere, is concentrated in their suburban rings but there’s also been something of central city revivals in Houston, Raleigh, Atlanta and Charlotte. Increasingly these places boast the amenities to compete with the bastions of hipness in everything from medicine and banking to technology and movies. The new owners of the New York Stock Exchange are based in Atlanta and some financial professionals are moving to low-tax states such as Florida.

For its part New Orleans, where I am working as a consultant , is challenging New York and Los Angeles in the film and video effects industry. Houston boasts the country’s largest medical center. Raleigh, Austin, Houston and San Antonio rank as the largest gainers of STEM jobs over the past decade.

Over time, numbers like these will have consequences politically, as well as culturally and economically. In the next half century, more Americans will be brought up Southern; the drawls may be softer, and social values hopefully less constricted, but the cultural imprint and regional loyalties are likely to persist. Rather than fade way, expect Southern influence instead to grow over time. It is more likely that the culture of the increasingly child-free northern tier and the slow-growth coasts will, to evoke the past, be the ones gone with the wind.

Joel Kotkin is executive editor of and a distinguished presidential fellow in urban futures at Chapman University, and a member of the editorial board of the Orange County Register . He is author of The City: A Global History and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. His most recent study, The Rise of Postfamilialism, has been widely discussed and distributed internationally. He lives in Los Angeles, CA.

This piece originally appeared at

Photo by Belle of Louisville.

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The common media view of the South

Another insightful column, Mr. Kotkin. Your opening sentence aptly captures the stereotypical views so consistently promulgated by “the media”, and the balance of your writing effectively debunks those misleading parodies. It strikes me that “the media” willfully foster the stereotypical views, for “they” cannot be ignorant of salient facts such as these indicia of power:

For 29 of the past 50 years the President of the United States has been from a Southern state.

Congressional power has been moving to the South: 121 House seats in 1972; 149 in 2010; and, prospectively, as many as 155 in 2020.

“Fortune 500” companies headquarter heavily in the South: 149 (52 in Texas alone) in 2012.

(Of course, if one were to speak of “power” in the sense of useful energy to accomplish work, the region (in the form of Texas, Louisiana and their offshore fields) is in a league of its own, and burgeoning.)

Could be that “the media”, so heavily weighted along the New York-Chicago-Los Angeles “blue axis”, are driven to stereotyping the rising South in a futile attempt to distract “their” audience from the broken “blue model” which has been so well documented by you and Walter Russell Mead.

While there is a certain.....

Economic revitalization happening, which is good to see, it's not a "natural, free-market" change in circumstances. It's simply businesses and major corporations playing states against each other to get the best deal possible. This is great for corporations, and even for states that have very low standards for public services. This is not so great for employees. This really becomes a "Race to the bottom" trifecta, of lowest tax obligation, lowest employee obligation and weakest environmental requirements.

Liberal utopia and unintended consequences

I was addressing a similar argument to your, in my comment below:

And what does the great liberal utopian race to the "top", of the highest tax obligation, highest employee obligation, and strongest environmental requirements, do to an economy and to society?

It does not just promote severe inequality in the attributes of housing - it "excludes" rather than "includes" the least skilled and least productive, from the functioning modern society.

The rate of home ownership by minorities is far higher in the South than in the West and Northeast, for example.

Lower paid jobs in the "Superstar" cities and "global" cities that are so celebrated by liberal utopians, are disproportionally taken by recent immigrants who are prepared to live in appalling overcrowded conditions as a consequence of relentless housing unaffordability.

There is a crisis in the UK with unemployed people all over the nation who stay unemployed in regional cities rather than move to London and take jobs that Poles and Pakistanis are taking. And why would an unemployed English person bother to move to London and get a job, when they exist in comparatively greater comfort in "social" housing in the regional city? The effective marginal "tax" of moving to London, getting a JOB, and paying one's own way for housing, is well over one hundred percent. Way to go, liberal utopians.

There is at least an option for the same kind of people in the USA, to considerably BETTER their life progress by moving to Houston. The UK, and its most disadvantaged people, would be far better off if they had anything like the Houston option.

I think that I see the problem

Nowhere in my response, was a mention about any race to the top, as in punishing taxes, or environmental regulations that are not able to be complied to. Not once. It's a fine balance. China has shown firsthand what extreme corpora-conservatism can do. It may be a single party system, but the corporations own the party. growth, at the expense of all else has led to horrific employee conditions for most, and environmental conditions that may take centuries to repair. By putting municipalities against each other their encouraging the same kind of situation. Sensible regulation, employee wages and treatment, across the nation, would really level the field.

Keep in mind, not all jobs are equal. If wages are too low, if taxes are to low, and regulation falls short, a strange thing happens. People begin to leave. They leave for better schools, better environmental conditions, and better services. It forms a "boom town" mentality, where people show up for the work in lean times, but never gain much of an emotional attachment to the place, and leave as soon as the economic conditions allow.

Fascism, crony capitalism, economic rent lessons 4U

What a curious parallel universe your mind exists in.

".....the corporations own the (Chinese Communist) party....." in China??????

Rubbish. What came first, the Party or the corporations? The Party owns the corporations. The Party jails or executes anyone that steps out of line. No-one is safe. Party members bank the "planning gain" that is making urban land so absurdly expensive and making things so difficult for wage earners. Party members "flick" property on to "greater sucker" investors.

Sure this is crony capitalism at its worst, but it is the "crony" that is the problem, not the "capitalism". Ayn Rand said crony capitalists should be hung. Marx said all capitalists should be hung. There is a difference. China needs a libertarian free market revolution, especially in urban development.

China really illustrates just how close fascism is to Communism on the political spectrum (it was always a convenient falsehood that they were opposite extremes). Hitler said "why nationalise property when you can nationalise the people"? Fascists pretend to let people own stuff and keep the fruits of their labours, but they can still tell everyone who they are to employ, what they are to make, etc, and no-one is safe, not even the crony capitalists. These people co-operated with the Nazis because they didn't want a bullet through their head, that is all. Their profits were contingent on what the Nazis would let them keep. It is nonsense to think that "control" ran the other way. China has merely evolved from Communism to fascism.

About your last paragraph, I will certainly agree to differ. People and businesses might indeed like the idea of going back to California from Texas, IF California made it affordable for them......!!!!!! And that is a big "if". Make it affordable and they will come. I am with you to that extent.

There is a massive difference between "amenity value" that people might willingly stretch to paying, and straight-out zero-sum economic rent. Rentiers paradises will never win the migratory wars against freer-market, rent-minimising, zero-sum-wealth-transfer-minimising local economies.

Arguing against you on several threads, I can see that economic rent is a massive blind spot with you. You need to read some basic economic literature that explains it. I recommend Alan W. Evans' "Economics, Real Estate, and the Supply of Land" for a thorough discussion of economic rent in the context of land and land market distortions.

As a native Texan who spent

As a native Texan who spent most of my working career in the North, and then retired to Austin, I will have to say that the images of the region among much of the educated class elsewhere are painfully outdated caricatures. Certainly the major cities of Texas are competitive with any anywhere, although the rural areas and small towns remain for the most part pretty backward. On the other hand, a disproportionate number of politicians we elect are utter clowns who reinforce all the worst stereotypes from the past, and so long as that is the case, the region is likely to remain the object of contempt (which of course leads to a defensiveness that makes the election of Bozos even more common).

Sophisticated secularism will END the Texas miracle

Far too many people completely miss the connection between the so called backward culture, the stereotype politicians elected by Texans, and the freedom and prosperity that attracts people there.

When Texas starts electing sophisticated secularists, its miracle will be OVER.

For example, it is conservative Protestant beliefs about the environment - God's providence for man's use - that keeps environmentalists and "smart growthers" at bay; which is a hugely important factor in keeping Texas cities affordable, growing, and attracting "producers".

One of my "5 books everyone should read" is "The Theme is Freedom" by M. Stanton Evans, which is a remedial education regarding the vital role of conservative Protestantism in basic political and economic freedom, and the inimical nature of modern secularism to those things. Europe was first into secularism and its decline predates the US's for that reason. California and NY are the States of the USA most run by sophisticated secularists and Greenies - I rest my case.

Sophisticated secularism may save the Texas Miracle

Certainly the Rise of Protestantism in Europe was associated with some positive accomplishments: the Puritans in the English Civil War also represented the rising middle class against feudal aristocrats and the power of a representative Parliament against the power of the monarchy. A century later, their descendants were the Dissenters who, having been shut out of much of public life, formed their own academies and universities, which were much more intellectually rigorous than the High Church institutions; and they, along with the Presybterians of Scotland, created the Industrial Revolution. In America, they became the intellectual and mercantile class in New England. But what all these Protestants had in common was a high respect for both honest labor and educated intellect. In the lowland South, the aspirations resembled those of the English aristocracy, disdaining labor (which was fit only for slaves) and education. The Southern highlands were settled by anarchical clansmen from the chaotic borderlands of Scotland and Northern Ireland; they were warriors first of all, and disdained outside groups and education. The modern South has retained many of these characteristics; and the dominant religious views reflect anti-intellectual and race-based feelings far more than they do the more transformative Protestant tradition. For example, the Southern Baptist Convention today directly contradicts most traditional Baptist beliefs.

Your arguments are those of a small, self-referential group of ideologues.

There's no "establishment" like the modern secular one

Sophisticated secularism may "save the Texas miracle"???? HUH? How's that working out in California?

Your assessment of Southern USA in the days of slavery is much more accurate than your assumption that these beliefs are still the mainstream.

I'd like to know what you call "traditional Baptist beliefs", as opposed to Southern Baptist ones. But Baptists are not the whole story. Most churches with a clerical hierarchy have long since succumbed to the liberal agenda. Truly "traditional" beliefs are now regarded as "fringe", but that does not make the liberalised beliefs, "traditional".

There is a strong connection between traditional Protestant beliefs, (especially Dissenting Protestant beliefs), and adherence to political freedom as opposed to Statism, which is what the "liberalised" churches have sold out to. While these traditional beliefs may be regarded by liberals as "fringe", they are what keeps a State like Texas thriving.

One of the best examples, is that there is a correlation between the percentage of "evangelicals" in the population, and property price stability. The IMF found this in a paper entitled "Irrational Exuberance in the US Housing Market: Were Evangelicals Left Behind"? The IMF author surmises that this might be because evangelicals are less likely to "speculate"; however, Albert Saiz of Harvard insists that the connection is the antagonism of these people to urban growth containment (after all, God gave man land to use). Saiz cites Dennis P. Hollinger: "The Ethics of Individualism: an Evangelical Syncretism".

There have been considerable shifts of population within the USA over the decades, and a high proportion of residents in the South are "new". A high proportion are "opportunity seekers", and a high proportion appreciate low housing costs, and are probably wise about the reasons for it.

It is ironic that your "racist" dystopian South has the highest rate of minority home ownership in the USA, and sophisticated secular California with its racial mascot politics, has the lowest. Thomas Sowell calls this "Green disparate impact"; Randal Pozdena calls it "the new segregation". I call it the new eugenics, because people who can't afford housing can't afford to breed.

There is a strong correlation between housing affordability, birth rates, and Republican voters. Prof. Steve Sailer has been writing about these correlations for years.

Rather than "a small, self-referential group of ideologues", I prefer to regard my type as modern Galileos arguing for truth against a benighted "establishment", in this case the sophisticated secular one. In fact, sophisticated secular political correctness is riddled with absurd beliefs in things that basic common sense observation disproves - such as the alleged harmlessness of a mass epidemic of fatherlessness, in service of radical feminist mantras.

You are correct that historically, "....what all these Protestants had in common was a high respect for both honest labor and educated intellect....". This is what underlies western civilisational progress, NOT Jacobinism and godless philosophy and secularisation. The logical conclusion of these things is fascism and communism, "the State" as god. This is actually the total opposite of the beneficial concept of the separation of Church and State, a stroke of genius emanating from the Reformation and nothing else. M. Stanton Evans points out that in most cultures in history, the "king" or tribal chief WAS the deity or the earthly representative of the deities. The modern "State as god" is every bit as inimical to true civilisational progress.

You make several telling

You make several telling points, but I beg to differ in terms of the views about slavery in the South and its deleterious effects upon the culture and economy as well as with the characterization of New England as a nexus of hard work and intellectual freedom.

I thought the discussion about the Puritans and their belief in education and hard work was a bit over the top, perhaps people are confusing the Puritan Gov. Winthrop with the anglican/Baptist, Roger Williams, the real father of separation of church and state.

There are no mentions the Puritan practice of excommunicating anyone who did not toe the line (this at a time when excommunication was tantamount to a death sentence)including Mr. Williams. Beyond that, there's collective amnesia about land grabs by Winthrop in the Plymouth Colony, attempted land grabs in Rhode Island (ended by a strong letter from Oliver Cromwell) or any mention of the "late unpleasantness" of King Phillip’s War. That genocidal war not only killed off New England's remaining Indian population, but also destroyed economic development in Mass. for about 100 years.

I agree that the picture of the South as a cultural and educational wasteland is generally overdone. By rights, the Northeast coastal cities should be compared to the Southern coastal cities, not to the hinterlands of either region. That means comparing Charleston, Williamsburg, Baltimore and Savannah to Boston, Providence, New York and Philadelphia; not comparing either group to underdeveloped rural areas of Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia or Texas.

Even though the two regional colonial and post colonial economic models were very different, apples to apples, the quality of life in the southern coastal cities was similar to that in the northern cities. Remember Virginia was the biggest state in the union for quite a while, managing to produce five of the first six presidents. Many economic historians give the then developed south relatively high marks for economic development, albeit highly specialized. Its true that the Northern litoral dominated shipping and ship building, fishing and, later, textile manufacturing. However, the South, with its longer growing season and more fertile soils was able to create what would now be called factory farming. The two regions thus had a symbiotic relationship with both regions dependent on each other as well as on foreign finance.

I can describe ancestors who left Vermont and migrated to Georgia in the 1820s, for economic opportunity. They were still corresponding with their northeastern kin at the beginning of the civil war, not so much at the end. They were reasonably well educated, being teachers, doctors, lawyers, judges, state legislators, etc., as well as shop keepers and farmers.In short, they were typical settlers doing well in what to them appeared to be a perceived land of opportunity. Well enough that they were willing to fight to perserve it.

I believe the image of southern backwardness really has more to do with the South losing the civil war and suffering the subsequent loss of substantial regional wealth tied up in slave ownership. Freeing the slaves effectively destroyed the capital base of the southern region. I recollect that Lincoln did float the idea of reimbursing the owners of the slaves as a way to accomplish moral good while also providing working capital to support a Southern economic transition.

That good idea was shot down as too expensive. Much better to fight a “quick” war of liberation. At the end of that war, there were no reparations for the slave owners and no Marshall Plan for the Southern economy. Quite the contrary, reparations flowed the other way.

Real recovery only begins in the late 1870s after reconstruction ended and the South was no longer an occupied territory without representation. It took several more decades to rebuild the political and the capital base. During that time, the South became stereotyped as a region of ignorant sharecroppers, both black and white, despite the efforts of Southern progressives in Atlanta, New Orleans, and elsewhere who argued the case for viewing the South fairly. while they were eventually successful in attracting risk capital, they were not able to shake the Boss Hogg image.

Some people continue to seek validation by arguing that the North East remains intellectually and economically superior to the rest of the US and especially to the states of the former confederacy. That may make for personal comfort and colorful storytelling but it is simply not a valid economic or cultural comparison.

For details, people may want to read "History of the American Economy" by Walton and Rockoff as well as "Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul" by John Barry.