Apr 1, 2022 - News

The Economist: Florida is most culturally important state in the U.S.

A view of Florida from space
The Florida peninsula as photographed by a Space Shuttle Discovery crewmember during STS-31 mission in April 1990. Photo: HUM Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

In the last century, Florida has changed from a mosquito-choked final frontier where nobody wanted to live into the most politically and culturally important state in the country.

  • That's the top-line argument from Alexandra Suich Bass, senior correspondent at The Economist, who analyzed Florida from different angles, including the economy, public policy, migration, politics and the environment.

The big picture: Thanks to the pesticide DDT and air conditioning, millions have moved here since WWII, and Florida's demographics better reflect America at large than most other big states. So the Sunshine State offers lessons:

  • It is a window into the wider challenges facing America. Florida has long had a big chunk of seniors and Hispanics, and trends show Americans are getting both older and more diverse.
  • Florida, by far America's largest swing state, has started to drive the national conversation economically and politically as the population swells.

What they're saying: While progressives look west to California for ideas, Florida has "challenged California to be America's cultural and demographic touchstone," writes the historian Gary Mormino in his forthcoming book "Dreams in the New Century."

State of play: Population growth has slowed across the country, but Florida's has boomed, passing New York as America's third-most-populous state (after California and Texas), with 22 million residents.

  • It's seen as both a tax- and regulation-light paradise and a cautionary tale of get-rich-quick at a cost.
  • Example: the collapse last year of a cheaply-built condominium tower in Surfside, which killed 98 people. 

What's next: Florida's lax COVID-19 regulations have increased the state's appeal, Suich Bass writes. 

  • "By opposing mask requirements and vaccine mandates and making schools stay open, [Gov.] DeSantis has positioned Florida as what he calls the 'freest state in these United States.'" 

Why it matters: Because there's no personal income tax, 82% of the state's revenue comes from transaction taxes like sales and excise tax, so the state needs people to continue to move here and to visit, Suich Bass reports.

Yes, but: We have been a boom-and-bust state, riding huge waves of prosperity, but also suffering again and again when hurricanes strike and halt growth.

  • Though, as Florida's economy diversifies, the next busts might not be so bad. 
  • Still, critics say the lowest wages must rise for Florida to continue to bring workers in.

Of note: The writer predicts that Florida could become less reliant on seasonal residents (snow birds) and tourists as the economy diversifies and businesses move to Florida.

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