Fri, Dec

The Big Brain Drain in the Red States


GELFAND’S WORLD - A few years ago, the governor of Texas was bragging about how well his state was doing in luring businesses from California, and yes, there was a certain amount of truth to that. Not a huge truth though. California continues to rank as the world's fourth or fifth largest economy, depending on whether we have overtaken Germany yet, and having risen from sixth place since 2017. A substantial part of this economic power comes from California's ability to attract some of the world's top brains. Out of this intellect has come the semiconductor industry and before that, the aviation industry and a huge part of the defense industry. 

If we look at what has been so good for California and why we have continued to prosper,  it isn't that difficult to predict that there will be a long-term brain drain from the deep south and the rest of the red states. The corollary is that over the next couple of decades, the promise of an economically vibrant "new South" will be in question. 

There are two major reasons why, although they have a considerable amount of overlap. 

The first reason that we can expect to see a diminution in bright people (particularly married couples) moving to red states is the demonstrable danger that is now the result of the loss of reproductive freedom, a trend which continues to get worse. Without going into the gory details, the news has been full of stories in which women's lives were at stake as local hospitals refused to treat potentially lethal conditions. The latest horrific story can be found here.  

Remember that we are talking about treatment for potentially deadly conditions. 

Along with the outlawing of abortions (some red states are using 6 weeks of pregnancy as the standard), there is the recent movement to outlaw the so-called abortion pill. Considering the behavior of the Supreme Court and some of the lower courts, it is not impossible that the legality of this drug could end up on a state by state basis. 

For young people looking for jobs, the prospect of relocating to another state is now complicated by the danger of moving to a region that opposes medical liberty. How many young couples, considering a job offer from, let's say, a major aircraft company in Missouri, will consider the loss of reproductive freedom and its inherent dangers in their calculations? "No, I don't want to live in that state." 

Also note that the more extreme anti-abortion people in such states are trying to make it illegal for an employer to facilitate an abortion by offering plane tickets to other states. Whether or not these states will ultimately be allowed to enforce such bans, the political attitude is clear and well publicized. 

Another problem that is cropping up in the red states is increased political tension over the separation of church and state. In other parts of the country, people have been experiencing an increasingly relaxed attitude towards religious observance. Now, with the ascendance of the Trump Supreme Court, there is a perceived danger that something akin to a low-grade theocracy will take root in bits and pieces. We don't have to worry about a governmentally sanctioned official religion such as existed under medieval monarchies, but there is an increasingly oppressive attitude amongst the ruling class towards non-believers and members of minority religions. A bill to place the Ten Commandments on schoolroom walls in one state is the latest manifestation. The underlying attitude comes across -- that evangelical Protestantism is the quasi-official religion in such places, in spite of the Constitutional ban on "an establishment of religion." 

There is one additional factor which has been largely overlooked in the press, but promises to have an increasingly negative effect on red state economies. 

It is the governmental embrace of anti-intellectualism. 

By this, I refer to the opposition to freedom of thought and, in particular, to the opposition to expression of contrary thoughts. It is the absolute antithesis of what we cherished in the university system in earlier days and in freer states. 

Freedom of speech, thought, and expression should be an American ideal, and it should be defended. In the red states, we see evidence that the political class that is currently in power is opposed to intellectual freedom. 

This opposition is strongest when it comes to teaching children about their own history. In the part of the country that hosted slave auctions, the history of race in America is more and more said to be out of bounds. The right wingers of the red state alliances have taken an obscure academic argument called critical race theory, and used it as a pretext to attempt to outlaw essentially every truthful statement about their own history. 

I have to concede that supporting intellectual freedom is not universal. But we should recognize that among the most intelligent and productive of students and graduate students, this ideology will predominate. And those are the people that you would like to recruit to your computer companies, to your design teams, and to your universities, because they are the ones who are going to come up with the new ideas that will lead to major breakthroughs. 

Let me take it a step further. Such people want to be able to live in an atmosphere of intellectual freedom, where it is possible to hear from divergent views and express views of your own without fear of retaliation. 

It seems that too many red state politicians and elected leaders are scared to death of allowing for intellectual freedom. They make it quite clear that if they can have their way, there will be no such thing. Even as I write this, the Texas state senate has passed a bill to do away with tenure in public colleges and universities including the University of Texas. They have been polite enough to grandfather in all those who are currently tenured, but they are certainly sending a message to anyone who would attempt to apply for a faculty job in the future. 

Out of such rude gestures are brain drains provoked.


(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected])