In Lehman's Terms
Many publications are dusting off headlines from the mid-1980s related to the economic impact of falling gas prices. A national newspaper recently published this headline on its business page: Beware Texas: Oil Price Drop Could Lead to 1980s Era Recession.
For those of you not around in the ‘80s, it was a time when plummeting oil prices created an economic disaster for Texas, which was a one-industry state at the time.
Texas oil legends fictionalized by Hollywood in movies like “Giant” or TV shows like “Dallas” saw their massive fortunes disappear overnight. Almost every Texan suffered from this economic disaster, when our unemployment rate was several percentage points higher than the national rate. Falling home prices forced many people into foreclosure, and many small businesses in areas not even related to the energy sector were forced into bankruptcy.
While I’m not an expert on the economic impact of gas prices, here “in Lehman's terms” is what I do know about our current economy and how we learned from our single-industry mistakes.
Since the 1980s, Texas lawmakers have worked tirelessly to diversify our economy to lessen our dependency on oil. These elected officials have not been concerned about partisan labels or immediate post-session victory pronouncements. They have been dedicated to long-term job creation and new steady economic engines designed to bring solid growth to our state. They have also been dedicated to ensuring Texas supplies these new economic models with the infrastructure needed for long-term economic viability, such as transportation, water, and an educated workforce.
As a result, despite a significant drop in oil prices, we have an economy that’s a little sluggish but still growing. Declines in energy-sector job growth have been enormously overshadowed by significant growth in areas like education, healthcare, technology, manufacturing, and tourism. Most important, new home construction and real estate sales remain positive—major signs of economic stability.
Past and present Texas lawmakers should be commended for their dedication and commitment to this economic diversification. And current elected officials should not be distracted by a political environment where their decisions are immediately posted for public validation in social media. They should continue to work toward the long-term goal of a prosperous Texas.
Politicians are often characterized as elected officials who care only about themselves and the next election, while statesmen are characterized as public servants who focus on the future and its impact on the next generation. For decades the future of Texas has been in the hands of some pretty significant statesmen and stateswomen. Let’s keep it that way.
Mark Lehman is vice president of Governmental Affairs at the Texas Association of REALTORS®.
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