Turning to Texas: An Alternative Perspective on Business and Government in the 1970s

The 1970s is now often seen as a decade when a series of radical reorganizations of society took place, sending the US into a new era of conservatism and market fundamentalism which broke apart the New Deal coalition, undermined Keynesianism, and restricted government involvement in the economy. Reaganism and neoliberalism were the immediate outcomes and harbingers of future retrenchment. Scholars seeking to better understand this era of transformation often focus on scalar changes (from the national to the global and local, predominantly) and on regions and cities (New York City in particular) where changes from welfare capitalism to austerity appeared most pronounced. This paper adopts a different sets of lenses to proffer a different interpretation of the 1970s, one that emphasizes continuity over fracture and the increasing role of public institutions in economic life. I use Texas, and specifically two men, Erik Jonnson and George Kozmetsky, to highlight these interpretations. The first is to offer the state scale, one often overlooked in favor of global and urban/metro, to address why and how some states were better positioned to succeed as a new federalism took shape in the 1980s. The cooperation between business and government is highlighted. The second is to argue that public institutions became more, rather than less, important to some business leaders in the 1970s, as they sought to save capitalism from itself as well as from its detractors. Public institutions and local and state government, which in Texas were heavily influenced by business coalitions and booster groups for decades, provided ideal places from which to study capitalism, build new capitalist models, nurture capitalist cultures, and insulate it from the whims of the market as well as unpredictable social forces. The result, they argued, would be a new, reinvigorated social era based on technology-oriented development that mended the fractures of the 1960s and ushered in the future.