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Summer in Austin and Miami

A dispatch from the covenantal city and the transactional megalopolis

Liel Leibovitz
July 03, 2023

That New York is a hellscape unfit for human life is, at this point, painfully obvious to all but the most deluded among us. Forget the basics, like surging crime (up 22% and counting) or cost of living so high that half of us can’t even afford to live here anymore. If you want a true taste of New York, just walk down the street. Smell the sour stench of weed emanating from too many loosely regulated dispensaries and see the deadened gaze on the faces of too many who medicate the pain away. Try to shop for soap or deodorant and find them under lock and key because we no longer bother prosecuting shoplifters. Even restaurants close at 9 p.m. these days. The city is dead, gone, over, kaput. Might it return to its former glory one day? Who cares! My children are young right now, and the pendulum swinging in a decade or so won’t buy them back a childhood robbed of freedom and safety by malicious morons who think they’re good people because they like shouting that laws and consequences are, like, super-racist constructs.

Where to, then? San Francisco, Chicago, and the other formerly great American cities have all been rotted by the same disease, and all seem to double down on the same terrible ideas. And while LA offers Jews certain pleasures, the choice for many is coming down to two towns, each representing a very different set of ideals and convictions. If you’re interested in the American future, it’s Austin versus Miami.

I have a dog in this fight, as they say—not in the way of investment or action, alas, but in where my heart is trending.

Look at the rate of wealth growth between 2012 and 2022: Miami leads the list with the most billionaires (12), as well as most centi-millionaires, or those worth $100 million or more. But when it comes to plain ol’ rich folks, it’s Austin all the way: The Texas capital has seen its millionaire population grow by a mind-boggling 102% in the last decade, the fastest rate of any American town.

This may be pure conjecture, but these numbers, I think, tell a fascinating story, one supported by spending some time in both communities. It is, ultimately, a story about brokenists versus status-quoists, those who think America is ruptured beyond repair and in need of an overhaul and those who believe a Band-Aid and a good night’s rest would do. Miami is billionaire central because it’s a perfect place for people who basically want a more functional, less ideologically inflamed, but otherwise largely unchanged version of what we have now. If you believe that a few clever transactions can turn back the clock to 1993, say, and swing the American pendulum back to normal, and if you believe that our socioeconomic infrastructure is largely healthy and that a few well-placed bits of legislation can cure it further, bienvenido a Miami. Billionaires, almost by definition and with very few exceptions, aren’t radicals. They’re careful observers of reality, seeing just one more layer of truth, beauty, and opportunity than most of us. They’re not the burn-it-all-down-and-build-it-back-up-from-scratch kind, which is why moving from one large and prosperous city like New York to another like Miami that offers similar foundations but more chances for growth is so appealing.

Not so the millionaires. These folks—again, major gross generalization alert—are drawn to Texas for the same reason wildcatters have always been drawn to Texas: for the spirit of the frontier and the sense, by equal measures thrilling and terrifying, that everything is new and everything is possible and everything must be built from the ground up. Which, for example, is why you’ll find so many former Hollywood bigwigs milling about Austin. Once upon a time, one of them told me recently, the Jews invented Hollywood by going all the way out west to some small town far away from New York. Now it’s time to do the exact same thing all over again someplace new.

The differences between the millionaires and the billionaires, though, are about more than net worth or attitude. They’re about faith, and how you see the world. For a glimpse into Miami’s soul, look at its beloved governor, a transactional politician who believes in fighting power with power. Disney singing the wrong notes? Revoke their tax benefits. Too many undocumented immigrants? Implement an electronic registration system. To every problem, a solution, all earthy and all focused on winning.

Over in Texas, on the other hand, they see things differently, which means perceiving of America not as a series of battlefields for the culture war but as a city on the hill bound by its covenant with the Creator to shine the light of freedom onto all. And if that’s your way of seeing the world, you naturally focus less on holding on to what is and more on giving birth to what should be.

Is one approach better than the other? Is it all ultimately just about aesthetics, Stetsons and Lucchese boots versus flowery shirts and moccasins? Maybe. But as we continue to flee our failing cities in search of better ones, and as we continue to think about what kind of American future we want and how we ought to get there, we could do worse than thinking about Miami and Austin, two of our strongest magnets, and what sets them apart.

Liel Leibovitz is editor-at-large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One. He is the editor of Zionism: The Tablet Guide.