Anti-Woke Is Not Enough
The right Red response to Blue is to build its own high-tech future.
In a recent piece for The American Conservative, I noted that woke Massachusetts is far from broke. To be sure, plenty of woke states are going broke. One such is blue Illinois, where Democratic governor J.B. Pritzker seems more interested in extending Medicaid to cover all aspects of transgenderism than in improving the state’s business climate, which the Tax Foundation rates as 36th in the nation.
That ranking doesn’t capture the full dimensions of Illinois’ troubles. In Chicago, the local political structure is objectively pro-crime, and that is one more reason why so many corporate headquarters have departed, including Boeing, Caterpillar, and Citadel. Meanwhile, Pritzker seems to see a special destiny for his state as a “beacon” on all things T. Perhaps that is the Pritzker plan for economic development—and yet it’s unlikely to work beyond a certain sector. Still, Illinois is richer than all but two red states, so at least it has a long way to fall before hitting bottom.
In the meantime, the red states have their plan for economic development. It is heavy on the Neo-Jeffersonian prescription of lower taxes, and so it is rife with arbitrage opportunities at the expense of blue states. In 2021, the American Enterprise Institute’s Mark Perry found that of the top ten states for inbound migration in the previous year, eight had Republican governors, and of the top ten states for outbound migration, nine had Democratic governors. He further noted that the average top individual income tax rate in the top ten inbound states was 3.8 percent, compared to an average top tax rate of more than 8 percent for the outbound states.
To be sure, not everyone worries about top tax rates, but some people do. Bloomberg News reports that the wealthy are making a “broader shift” to lower-tax states, “away from places like New York’s Upper East Side and San Francisco’s Nob Hill to warmer, less-dense regions of Florida and Texas.” Bloomberg adds, “As wealthy executives bring their businesses along with them, the merely affluent follow, too.”
In other words, a lot of economic action is on the move as blue money seeks, er, redder pastures. And it’s having a measurable effect. Also according to Bloomberg, zero-state-income tax Florida is “home to 38 of the 50 million-dollar US neighborhoods with the largest price gains by percentage over the past three years ... Those areas have all seen home values more than double.”
In fact, Red has an overall positive mental attitude toward development, as a blue financial titan attests. “We now have more employees in Texas than in New York state,” says JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon. “It shouldn’t have been that way but Texas loves you being there.”
We’re seeing a classic economic story: Development occurs in one place, and then, over time, it migrates to places with lower costs. So Elon Musk gets his start in Blue—educated at the University of Pennsylvania and Stanford, with his first startup in Palo Alto—and then relocates to Red, namely Texas. We can identify a sort of “regional contract” here: Red needs Blue as a source of rich people, just as much as Blue needs Red as a place for rich refugees to go (from an incumbent political power point of view, better to have malcontents leave than stick around and cause electoral trouble). Although, of course, there is the troublesome syndrome of economic action migrating even further, to Mexico or China, and that puts an implicit cap on red wages.
Yet there’s something on the horizon—actually, it’s already here, inside the house—that could change this familiar pattern: artificial intelligence. One expert predicts that A.I. could do away with 80 percent of jobs in the next few years. If so, what will that do to labor costs? Do to everything? About the only thing that seems sure is that in the coming tumult, it will be better to be above A.I. than below it. That is, upstream, on the making end, as opposed to downstream, on the receiving end.
That raises a pertinent question: Where, exactly, is A.I. coming from? The company that put A.I. into the national conversation is OpenAI, which last year unveiled Chat GPT. And where is Open AI headquartered? Why, at 3180 18th Street in San Francisco. Yes, the city that conservatives love to loathe, as they regard it as the epitome of demented left-libertarianism. To normal people, much of San Francisco is a crime-ravaged, drug-addled, homeless-personed hellscape—where even security-guarded Democratic politicians aren’t safe. But here is the thing: Not everyone is normal.
Without a doubt, having a really high I.Q. and the ability to sit still and code for days at a stretch is abnormal. In fact, in some subcultures, “normie” is a term of separation, even derision. So maybe that explains why the A.I. cluster in San Francisco is booming. According to the San Francisco Standard, a dissident publication, one neighborhood, Hayes Valley, is home to so many A.I. startups that it is known as Cerebral Valley. In fact, city-wide employment in “information” rose 31 percent from 2019 to 2023, even as employment in normie sectors, such as hospitality and construction, plummeted. Yes, it would seem that some people like San Francisco just the way it is, with fewer normies. And if that makes no sense to you, well, maybe you’re not the right fit for an A.I. startup.
If this were just a micro-trend in a relatively small coastal city—San Francisco ranks just 17th in population—it wouldn’t matter much. Who cares if, say, leather men eclipse pup handlers? But again, it’s A.I., so it’s a macro-trend, offering more leverage than just about anything we’ve seen so far in this century. And A.I.’s heart is tangled up in Blue, left in weirdo San Francisco. The money involved is far out, too. According to one report, A.I. has already hiked the fortunes of tech tycoons to the tune of $150 billion. That’s more money, and more power, for Blue, and all that it stands for.
So when A.I. disrupts everything, who is going to be the disruptor, and who is going to be the disruptee? How now do the people who work in the blue city by the bay regard red America? Might all the conservative imprecations—all those attacks on Drag Queen Story Hour—be reciprocated, and multiplied, in some way that we can’t yet fathom? We already know that Chat GPT is full of left-wing political and cultural bias, what will happen when A.I. tsunamis across the entire national landscape?
So what should be the conservative response? Red should recognize that the economic race is being won, not by lower taxes, but by higher coding skills. That’s not an argument against low taxes, it’s an argument in favor of high tech. Not just for economic betterment, but for sociopolitical self-defense, against the revenge of the nerds in ’Frisco. And if one has to fight fire with fire, the first thing to know is how to create fire.
It is great, of course, that eight of the ten winningest college football teams are Red, but maybe the greater battle is brains, not brawn. Yes, Red needs its own A.I. firestarting. And yet according to U.S. News, of the top ten schools in the country (we’re talking academics now), the first nine—Princeton, MIT, Harvard, Stanford, Yale, the University of Chicago, Johns Hopkins, and the University of Pennsylvania—are in Blue. The tenth, Duke (Red), is tied with Northwestern (Blue).
Some will argue that these ratings are wrong; these schools (and perhaps the school-raters, too) have gone woke—and so their credibility is broke. That is possible, although it’s also possible that tech-minded departments are mostly untouched in their spectrum-y solipsism, even as we are all transfixed by the academies’ gender- and race antics. And we know that MIT has de-woked itself on the sine qua non of a tech education; as its dean of admissions said last year, “There is no pathway through MIT that does not include a rigorous foundation in mathematics, mediated by many quantitative exams along the way.” But woke or not, MIT-ers are definitely blue; in the 2020 presidential election, Joe Biden won them, 89:8. One can add that it’s bad strategy for Red to see so many of its smartest students going to Blue for higher education. Will they stay in Blue to seek their fortune? And if they come back to Red, what will they be thinking?
So Red needs its own stronger, non-woke, home-grown tech. To that end, here’s a suggestion: Some enterprising, far-thinking, red state should make this offer: Any applicant who gets an 800 on his or her math SAT will not only be accepted, but will get a free ride through college. Yup, every nickel—tuition, room, board, maybe even a stipend—covered, and the only key to unlocking this educational cornucopia is acing a color-blind test on the other queen of the sciences, mathematics. So no horsing around with legacies and quotas and victim statements: just merit, and nothing but.
Get daily emails in your inbox
And for the course work? Same: a choice between math and science, or science and math. This “800” program could be operated through an existing red-state school. Of course, if existing schools didn’t wish to cooperate—there are plenty of woke dots in Red—then an independent “800 U” could be whipped up quickly enough, perhaps in some empty office building. After all, there would be no need to worry about extra-curricular activities or any of that sis-boom-bah stuff. This would be, from the get-go, Grind U. The goal, of course, is that these brainiacs would be acclimatized to alma mater and wish to stay after they graduate—either as smart workers, or as a smart start-uppers. (And if 800 U taught lessons about the value of studying, as opposed to partying, that would be useful as well.)
The idea of a special “magnet” for tech is not new. For instance, the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics was founded back in 1980, making all the right noises about the importance of STEM. And yet over the years, the pseudopods of the education blob have snaked their way in to the admission process, such that SATs are not required. And we know what means: Nobody is going to mistake an NCSSM graduate for an MIT grad.
The Great Red Hope is that a new tech cluster will emerge in Troy, or Tulsa, or Twin Falls. Out of that, hopefully, will come the capacity for a red A.I. that can counter blue A.I. There’s no guarantee of that, of course, and yet if Red can’t somehow build that capacity, Blue will win. Big time.