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The Future of Texas: Texas 2000 Revisited

by Peter C. Bishop

The future of Texas is an easy subject to talk about because there is so much material. It is a popular topic in Texas. Texans are fascinated with their future. They take it very seriously and talk about it incessantly. When Texans talk about their future, they display the unbounded optimism which both Professors Franz and Hazleton have described. No matter how incredibly high the price of oil got, it would be just that much higher down the road. Good times follow good times in an endless stream of success. No matter how low the Texas economy gets, it will get better down the road. Good times also follow bad times in an alternating stream of success. In either case, the recurring theme is that we expect the future to be better than the present.

Beneath the bravado and the optimism, however, Texans talk about their future because they are afraid. Their fear is a crisis of confidence. It is the fear of losing the fundamental identity of Texas. In short, Texans don't know what they are going to brag about in the future. It can't be agriculture since Texas is at best second in most crops, and the rest of the world is learning to feed itself anyway. It can't be oil since Texas oil production peaked in 1972, and the most optimistic forecaster predicts continued gradual decline. It can't be "favorable business climate," as in few unions, cheap labor, and low taxes because Texans will never compete with Third World nations on the cost of doing business. It can't be computer technology because California and Massachusetts have such enormous leads that Texas finds itself in the pack of states trying to sell itself to the few companies who are still on the move.

In fact, finding itself in the same predicament as the "other" states in the union may be the bitterest pill of all. Texas has always been different, better, unique. What will set Texas apart in the future? How can Texans live with the image that their future is the same as everyone else's? How can they give up the belief in themselves as a special people in a special place? Can they survive such a radical change in identity?

The title for this talk is "Texas 2000 Revisited." A state commission, entitled Texas 2000, supposedly considered these questions and released a report on them in 1982. The report is an excellent backdrop for this talk because it is a good example of a balanced approach to many aspects of the future. As we shall see, it was also a failure. It was wrong and it was unheeded.

The Texas 2000 report covers nine areas of critical importance to the future of Texas -- population, economy, agriculture, energy, public finance, relations with Mexico, research and development, transportation and water. I will use a simple model for keeping these topics straight. I begin with the two givens of any social group -- the people and the land. The land includes the resources that lie on it or within it. People manipulate the resources from the land according to an established practice which we call technology. The technology of a group is what people know how to do with their resources. Using technology, people produce goods and services for sale in the market -- hence the economy. The people, the land, and the economy interact within the jurisdiction of government. Within the economy and the government, people produce a living for themselves. The major elements I will discuss this morning, therefore, are the future of Texas' people, resources, technology, economy, and government.

The People

Texas 2000 produced a number of specific forecasts concerning the demographic shape of Texas in the year 2000. They forecast a larger population growing from 14.2 million in 1980 to 22.2 million in 2000. That amounts to a 4.5 percent annual increase. Texas' growth was to be a function of two driving forces -- the relative youth of the Texas population and the migration stream moving into the state. Of the two, migration played a much stronger role in the forecast. The migrants were to be of two types -- domestic migrants and international migrants mainly from Mexico.

By 1984 Texas had achieved a population of 16 million -- right on track at 4.5 percent growth. But 1984 was right before the second drop in oil prices. The Texas economy had leveled off, but it had not started sliding backward. Because of recent economic events, domestic migration into the state has virtually stopped. The international migration stream, which is also driven by the search for employment, has slowed but hardly stopped. The Mexican economy has been battered many times more severely than the Texas economy so that Texas is still a favorite destination from Mexico. So Texas population growth will probably continue, but in a manner and with an outcome that the writers of Texas 2000 did not predict. The state is likely to become much more Hispanic than it was, or was expected to be.(1)

Hispanics from Mexico and Central America are the new migrants of the 20th century. The United States has always been of two minds about its immigrant past. Old migrants are celebrated and toasted as the strength of the nation as symbolized by the Statue of Liberty. New migrants, on the other hand, are looked down upon, discriminated against, and expelled. Witness the new immigration laws. In the year 2000, Hispanics may have had the time to become the old migrants, perhaps in the face of some new group. They may be celebrated and praised for their courage and perseverance. Texas may become Hispanic the way Boston is Irish or Chicago is Polish. Texas becomes Tejas, and proud of it.

That is, of course, if we don't get too much of a good thing. Never before have we been faced with such a large potential migration without an ocean to buffer the flow. Massive migration from Mexico and Central America could touch off retaliation and retribution, discrimination, even persecution. we are not above being ugly. Which will it be in the year 2000?


What of the land, the Texas that endures, the Texas that outlasts the people? much of the story of Texas lies in the resources of the land. Texas has been a microcosm of the United States -- richly endowed and cleverly handled. The clip in the brochure announcing this talk has already stolen my punch line for the future of Texas resources -- "The oil won't run out, the water will." I made that statement in 1982, when oil shortages were a greater concern than water. The Texas 2000 report contains an exceptionally clear and useful analysis of the oil and water future.

First the oil. Oh, what difference a half a decade makes. we are no longer worried about too little oil. Now we are worried about too much! Won't people ever be satisfied! The basic facts of Texas oil history are clear and still largely unrecognized. The largest oil discoveries in the history of the state were made in the 1930s. We stopped adding to reserves in Texas in 1951 when production rose to equal discoveries. By the end of the 1950s, 96 percent of Texas oil had already been discovered. Discovery and production remained essentially equal until 1967 when discovery dropped to one-half of production. Production itself peaked in 1972 and has been declining since. Texas will run out of oil, but it won't happen anytime soon. Production of oil will still be a good business for Texas into the 21st century.

The other liquid resource for Texas is water. Water has a more fabled past than the youngster oil, and it promises to have a more interesting future. The story again is clear. All of the water resources of Texas are known, and they come in two forms -- ground water and surface water. Texas possesses about 5 million acre feet of sustainable ground water supply. Texas aquifers re-charge at the rate of 5 million acre feet per year. Texas has 11 million acre feet of surface water for a total available supply of 16 million acre feet. In 1980, Texans used slightly more than 17 million acre feet -- almost equal to the available supply.

So where's the problem? The problem is in the mix of ground and surface water usage. Texans use ground and surface water in exactly opposite proportion to their supply -- that is, they use 12 million acre feet of ground water and only 5 million acre feet of surface water. Why? Ground water is cheaper, easier to get, and requires no government programs. The effect, however, is that water tables drop, and once dropped, they do not rebound. The water table in the High Plains is dropping at a precipitous rate. We are literally mining water -- taking water out of the ground never to be replaced.

The heaviest water user in the state is agriculture -- almost 75 percent of all water is used for irrigation. Most of the supplies are ground water, and few of those supplies will be available in the year 2000. The water table will have dropped so far as to become non-existent or uneconomical. The Texas 2000 report predicts ground water usage in the year 2000 at 5 million acre feet, down from the current 12 million because of reduced natural supply. The effects on agriculture will be substantial new conservation programs, new genetic strains, shifting of crops from corn and wheat to sorghum, moving the agricultural center of the state back to the wetter East Texas where it began.

The story for the cities is not as bleak. They have relatively assured supplies into the 21st century. They will not be without their droughts, and they will have to spend more on the relatively expensive surface water, but the supplies are there. The Texas 2000 report predicts that the State of Texas would have to spend $32 billion in surface water development to keep water usage what it is today. The 1985 water plan calls for spending only $1 billion. Local sources will not make up the difference. Texas will simply write off most agricultural water use.


The people and the land -- the two fundamental elements of a society. We don't pay as much attention to those factors as we used to because we have fallen in love with technology. Where have been all these years without technology? How could we have lived? How did those benighted civilizations exist without technology?

Of course, technology is as old as civilization itself. As a people, we are simply guilty of the hubris of believing that we invented it, but we don't just have technology the way everybody else had. We have "high technology." The term somehow elevates everything to a whole new plane. High technology today is largely synonymous with computer technology -- the contribution of the 1970s and 80s to Western civilization. Indeed, computer technology is wonderful. I must confess an obsession with the machines myself, but I don't equate the introduction and rapid rise of a new technology with a new order of reality.

Unfortunately, Texans are not very proud of their technological prowess in the age of hi-tech. They are ashamed because they are not Silicon Valley or Route 128. All they can do is produce the second highest level of agricultural output with less than 3 percent of the workforce. They can only put drill bits 10,000 feet into the ground and pump $25 billion of oil, and $13 billion of gas with just another 4 percent of the workforce. They can only design and build jet aircraft to fly at the speed of sound, and command and control 55 missions into outer space -- some of which land on the moon. Texans have a glorious technological tradition, even if it does not fit the current category of socially approved high technology.

The future of Texas technology can again be glorious if we look past the current myopia about what constitutes valuable technology. Texans face two problems in this area. The first is hat most of their economically productive technology has been linked to the land -- agriculture and oil. The same can be said of other American technologies which Texas has not participated in as much -- textiles, steel, automobiles. The moral is that if Texas is to have a technological future, it has to develop technologies which are not dependent on location. Texas has realized this fact, and its initial response is to enter the economic development game -- the art of wooing every computer firm in the country to re-locate to Texas.

Texas does not need to play that game. It could instead look past the pre-eminence of computers in the 1980s toward the high technologies of the 1990s and the next century. Computers will not be high technology forever. They will pass as the premier technology just as automobiles, aircraft, and television did.

I put my money first of all on biology. There is good reason to think of biology as the next high technology. The infrastructure for biological engineering is currently being developed. The keys to that infrastructure will be to understand the exact relation between the genetic code, the proteins, and the chemicals which proteins produce. When those links are drawn, micro-organisms can be created to specification -- each organism designed to produce a specific type of material such as pharmaceuticals, fibers, plastics, or food. Although it sounds fantastic, biological engineering might be the real second industrial revolution. It has the potential to fundamentally change the way we satisfy our material needs.

The other technology of the 21st century will be space technology. I must admit to a bias in favor of space technology -- living and working as I do in the Clear Lake area and currently conducting research for the space program. Nevertheless, the potential for space, not only to expand our knowledge, but to alter the way we do business is enormous. It won't be what people think are the current uses of space. The profitable businesses of space are currently unknown. Nevertheless, the resource will be tapped and exploited.

The important point is that Texas has the elements to be a leader in both of these areas. For biological engineering, Texas already possesses the world's most developed process control technology and facilities in the chemical industry. Couple that with the agricultural and medical research at Texas universities and medical centers, and the state should have an early edge in the biological realm. The same can be said for space. The Johnson Space Center in Houston, General Dynamics in Fort Worth, the military bases over the state can be used to develop a leading industry in space technology and business. My recommendation is to leave computer technology to California and Massachusetts. Let them fight with the Japanese and the Koreans. Meanwhile Texas can get a head start on the really new technologies.

How is that done? How does one prepare to play in the arena of the new technologies -- those technologies which are not tied to place? Healthy businesses and economies do not happen by chance. They are the product of intelligent and sound investment. They result from investments in people, which we call education, and from investments in things, which we call capital. The problem, however, is that the United States of the 1980s is no longer an investing society. It is not a society which easily foregoes present consumption for future return. It is not a society with a positive attitude toward the future. Hence, the fear that Texans have, as I mentioned at the outset.


We are not investing in the economy as we should. Other countries are currently experiencing the beneficial side of this. They are building their future, growing through the skillful application of new technologies. They are motivated to endure rigorous educational regimes. They work longer hours for lower pay because their future is bright. They save what they earn because they enjoy high real growth rates for their investments. The economic scenario of the late 1980s portends the twilight of the American economy.

I am not at all as sure about this forecast as I may sound. I fully expect to be surprised by the future of the U.S. and world economies. But at this point, I don't see how. My warnings, therefore, are more a challenge than a statement of fact. How will the U S. economy retain or recover its pre-eminent status in the world?

The alternatives at least are clear. If we invest in the future, we stand a good chance of achieving the future which we long for. If we don't invest in the future, we stand a good chance of becoming a second-rate economic power -- working old and unproductive technologies, exchanging high paying manufacturing jobs for low paying service jobs, relying on foreign capital and foreign technology. The shape of the post-industrial society is still undefined. It can turn out well for us, or it can turn out poorly. Our choices are before us.


What of the future of government in the midst of this perilous time. The two most important aspects of government, if my thesis is correct, are educational and fiscal policy. I will not dwell on fiscal policy except to point out that this half decade has seen the U.S. run up a greater deficit than in all of its history combined. It has seen the U.S. change from a net lender to the rest of the world to the largest borrower from the rest of the world. I can't believe that these two facts will go unnoticed as their effects unwind over the next ten years.

The future of education is one which I know more about and have some deeply held beliefs. First what I know. I will assert first that I have not seen fundamental change in the public schools in the last 40 years -- except that governments have tended to use public school education as instruments of social policy. On the other hand, I find the landscape of higher education much different from what it was 30 years ago.

Higher education of the 1950s was an elitist institution created by the upper class for the children of the upper class and for the talented children of all classes. Today, higher education is a mass institution. In the process, and for laudable motives, the responsibility for education has shifted from the student to the teacher. The philosophy of education has changed from one in which a degree was offered to students who, through talent and perseverance, survived the system, to one in which a degree is offered to those whom teachers bring to a certain level of proficiency. In neither case is learning required, but in the first case, education was the student's responsibility. Now it is the school's and the teacher's responsibility. The danger in this movement is a marked decrease in the quality of higher education -- in students who are not asked to do hard things, not expected to read and understand material that has not been explained in class, not expected to write or speak in a coherent manner, not expected to think for themselves or construct a logical argument. The danger is in students being educated rather than educating themselves -- note the passive form of the verb.

Institutions of higher education may be transformed into institutions of advanced training designed to prepare students for careers. Training is teaching to solve problems for which there are well known and accepted answers. Education, on the other hand, is the process of learning to handle problems with no known answer or multiple answers, and to make decisions in the midst of uncertainty. I fear that as the need for economic development increases, we will use institutions of higher education for short-term training rather than for long-term education. That would be a pity, because we would be depriving ourselves of the greatest tool we have to solve the problems of the future.

Texas 2000

What will it be like to live in Texas in the year 2000? We can generalize from the effects of changes I have been talking about to say that we may all learn Spanish to further celebrate the Texas heritage. We may experience renewed social conflict between social classes or races as the economic pinch degenerates into a full-scale depression because the U.S. has lost its line of credit with the rest of the world. These social effects are possible. The 1990s could be another "interesting time" in American history -- a time of questioning, redefinition, unrest, conflict. Enjoy the peace and quiet while you can.

Actually, I leave you with multiple visions the year 2000 -- visions which I will not, indeed cannot, resolve into a clear picture. What will the future be like? It is a question with many answers. Looking into the future is like looking into a prism and seeing many figures simultaneously. It is difficult to focus on just one and more difficult to pick out the real one. I have painted a few of the images I see through the prism this morning. We could paint many others, but there is image piled on image -- none likely, but all plausible. The person who claims to know for sure is either foolish or dishonest. The person who ignores the range of possibilities does so at his own risk.

There is, nevertheless, an anxiety over the future of Texas that is real and deep. When that anxiety surfaces, it will be the beginning of a transformation. It will reveal that the stakes are enormous and the outcomes not at all predictable. It will dispel the belief in the automatic guarantee of ultimate success. It will become apparent that many of the attitudes and techniques of the past will not work to achieve success in the future -- that new ways of thinking and acting are needed for success. New ideas might involve looking past natural resources and computer technology to develop the economy of the future. It might mean forging a working coalition with the immigrants streaming into Texas. It might mean adopting a stronger commitment to education, while avoiding the temptation to use it as a quick-fix for economic hard times. It might mean abandoning unbounded optimism in order to realistically assess what we must do to achieve the future we want. Nothing less than wholesale transformation is in the wind. We cannot prevent transformation, but we can choose what type it will be. Will it be a gradual sinking into mediocrity while regaling ourselves with the glorious past, or a clear-eyed evaluation of our alternatives and a willingness to do what it takes to bring about the future we choose. The Texas past is indeed glorious, and it's future can be as well. But it will require the courage to embrace that future as it is, rather than as we hope it will be.

Epilogue: Texas 2000 Revisted, Again

What a pleasure it has been to review my 1986 address at the Annual Angelo State University Symposium on American Values. Futurists are often accused of talking about the long-term future so that they are not around die account for their errors! In this case, Angelo State tracked me down and gave me the opportunity to review what I said. The idea of this epilogue is mine, however -- a chance to review the Texas vision of the future 12 years later!

On the whole, the forecasts -- both mine and those of the Texas 2000 Commission -- were pretty good. Texas has undergone many of the changes suggested back then. The state is increasingly Hispanic, and soon to be a majority so. Water shortages still haunt the central and western portions of the state. Oil production continued to decline onland, although ultra-deepwater rigs, horizontal drilling and 3-D seismic were largely unanticipated, resulting in historically low oil and gasoline prices and revived industry -- a truly surprising future from 1986!

The computer revolution came to Texas after all. I had thought it would pass by because Silicon Valley and Route 128 had such commanding leads. The industry held more innovation than I anticipated, and Texans have been able to capitalize on it. Since the presentation in 1986, Austin has become the third major design and production center for chips and PCs in the US. IBM, Motorola and other manufacturers played a big part of that, but so did Texas' entrepreneurial spirit. The MCC and Sematech were centers of innovation as was Michael Dell who dropped out of UT and revolutionized the computer industry with his direct delivery approach. At the time of the original presentation, Compaq was challenging IBM by releasing the first 386 computer, beating the giant manufacturer to market by 6-9 months. Compaq is now the third largest computer company in the world, having just acquired the Digital Equipment Corporation, another of the old dynasties of the 70s and the 80s. The race goes to the brave and swift -- no place but Texas!

On the other technological front, biology, Texas has yet to show. Despite the enormous wealth of the Texas Medical Center (and other medical centers around the state), biological breakthroughs are still taking place on the coasts. Will Texas come from behind again? That would make a nice scenario.

The U.S. economy has rebounded since the dark days of 1986, made darker by the collapse of the oil industry at that time. The future seemed to be Japanese, but now the roles are reversed. Japan is mired in its past, and America has transformed itself into the economic powerhouse of the 1990s. The future surprises us, even when it simply reverts to previous pattern.

Another economic trend that neither I nor the Texas 2000 report appreciated was the explosion of the global economy, particularly the growth of our business to the South. NAFTA was a meaningless set of letters in 1986. Texas now stands at the gateway to the developing economies of Central and South America and promises to be one of the great crossroads in modern economic history. More Texans will learn and do business in Spanish than anyone expected. Texans are, if anything, ruthlessly pragmatic. If it takes speaking a foreign language to make a buck, particularly a language with such a proud tradition, so be it --vamos muchachos! Texas, like all historical crossroads, will be the blend of the best, and the worst, of the traditions that meet there. The symbol of that amalgam is still San Antonio -- a city that has celebrated the Hidalgo tradition and turned it into a gold mine of tourism and pride. All of Texas will learn how to assimilate an immigrant culture, just like Boston and Chicago, as mentioned in 1986.

While the educational establishment in Texas still has a long way to go, Texas has instituted educational accountability that is revolutionary. Statewide student and teacher assessments are focusing the attention of schools on student learning for the benefit of all. Still a long way to go, to be sure, but we should applaud those successes when they come along.

The utility of a presentation about the future is not whether it gets the future right. That goal is doomed from the start. The future contains novelty and creativity that none of us can know for sure. A good future presentation announces change, almost any change as long as it is interesting, plausible and relevant. We are the future of those who heard the 1986 presentation. If they were better prepared for change, of any type, then it was useful fixtures work. Judge this epilogue by the same criterion. Learning about the future as it unfolds is the key. No other strategy provides the same value over the long run.


(1) By 1990 the state's population reached nearly 17 million, a slightly slower growth rate than predicted by the Texas 2000 report. The Texas Hispanic population increased from 21 percent of the state's total count in 1980 to 26 percent in 1990.