Bryan Caplan  

Why Florida Is My Favorite State

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Greg Mankiw wonders why Florida is my favorite state.  I'm happy to answer, but must begin with a methodological preamble.

In a revealed preference sense, everyone's "favorite state" almost has to be wherever he resides.  If I really preferred Florida to Virginia, I'd move there, right? 

To wiggle free from this tautology, you have to somehow distinguish between state's deeply-rooted features and coincidental advantages.  This sounds arbitrary, but isn't hard in practice.  Weather? Deeply rooted.  Proximity of your best friends?  Coincidental advantage.  High real estate prices?  Deeply rooted.  Favorite restaurant five minutes away?  Coincidental advantage.

Virginia has massive coincidental advantages for me: I have a dream job for life at George Mason, most of my friends live nearby, and my wife has an excellent job in the area.  Since I never want to retire, I'll probably never leave Virginia.  But in terms of deeply-rooted features, Florida has the best overall package in the fifty states.  The top five points in Florida's favor:

1. Weather.  I used to care little about the weather, but once you have kids, you really start to appreciate pleasant days for outdoor fun.  And for me, Florida has the best weather in the country.  Most of the state has year-round warmth and sunshine.  Many observers complain about Floridian humidity, but I prefer it.  While I grew up in California, I now find California painfully dry.  Florida beaches are also much more inviting than California's; even in San Diego, the water is freezing.

2. Real estate.  Florida has the best quality-price combination in the country.  It has ubiquitous cheap housing in idyllic locations, plus tons of reasonably-priced luxury estates.  Growing up in California gives you the idea that only rich people can afford to walk to the beach.  If I had Mankiw money, I'd buy one of the many mansions that stretch from lake to beach, with a personal tunnel under the road, and I'd walk barefoot on the beach every night.

3. Politics.  As a libertarian, I value freedom for myself and others.  At the same time, though, I realize that policy differences between U.S. states are modest.  In the Mercatus Center's latest overall freedom rankings, Florida comes in 23rd - not bad, but not great.  However, Florida is perfect on one measure that personally matters a lot me: it has no income tax - and its sales tax is only 1 percentage-point higher than Virginia's.  In any case, the political feature that personally matters most to me is whether I can easily forget about the existence of state government.  I can do so in Virginia, and I'm confident I could do the same in Florida.  I cannot do this in California, where the state government invents new problems and rams dubious solutions down your throat day after day.

4. Attitude.  I prefer to be around people who are cheerful, or at least content.  And as far as I can tell, Floridians are near the top.  Who isn't?  Californians, for starters.  Where else do the checkers at the supermarket lecture you on your duty to recycle?  (This actually happened to me).

5. Immigrants.  I prefer to live in areas with lots of immigrants, and Florida has tons.  What's so great about being around immigrants?  I highly value cosmopolitan tolerance, and resent patriotic solidarity.  I like being around people who know the difference between real problems and First World problems.  And I like being places where nativists don't assume I share their concerns.

P.S. Mankiw also asked about my favorite Floridian locations.  To live: the Gold Coast.  To visit: Miami, Orlando, and Key West.

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COMMENTS (21 to date)
Andrew_FL writes:

Speaking as a Floridian, point 1 is most important to me, and I completely disagree-or rather, I have an opposite preference. The hot summers are number one on my list of reasons to get the heck out of here as soon as possible.

As to point 5, frankly this is a matter of complete indifference, in so far as I don't care about the people around me except in one single respect: how they vote. Which is my number two reason to get the heck out of, if not the state, at least the county: to get away from all these progressives. Most of whom, as far as I can tell, are immigrants only if you count state to state movement as migration. Okay I want to get away from such people: they're called New Yorkers.

pseudoerasmus writes:

"I like being around people who know the difference between real problems and First World problems"

That I find ironic because 99% of the time you are talking, thinking, and reading about First World problems.

Scott Sumner writes:

Everything you say about Florida is true, but I find the flatness to be unbearable. Sadly, California is where I'll end up.

Foseti writes:

If you really like living near immigrants, there are some very . . . vibrant neighborhoods in commuting distance to GMU. You could dramatically reduce your current expenses if you moved there too.

Revealed preferences are a . . .

Ray Lopez writes:

I've never visited FL, which sounds nice, but I've made money twice off the state, investing in public land-holding real estate companies CTO (Daytona beach area) and JOE (Gold Coast). As for weather, it's semi-tropical, not unlike the Philippines but more sunny. I hear Naples, FL is nice and that's where the rich live. California, with Mediterranean climate, is better IMO but it's also drier which will age your skin faster. The author is right however: northern VA is where the money is, especially if you're middle class. Follow the money.

Methinks writes:

The internet has reduced the NYC are'as coincidental advantages, so we moved our business to Florida a few years ago. I'm not much of a beach person, but I like all the other advantages. Plus, without an income tax it's much easier to afford a second home in Connecticut to escape the worst of the summer heat. I like the density of resources up North, but we haven't regretted the move.

Rich writes:

I've lived most of my life in Hawaii and Colorado, and will probably spend the rest of my life here, on the southeast coast of NC, but I love Florida. Living on Siesta Key would be nirvana.

TuringTest writes:

Gold Coast is way overrated ... Too much traffic, too little parking

Pat Boyle writes:

What is it you do at George Mason? Maybe I should take a trip back East.

I attended George Mason in 1960 (or was it 1959?). It was at the old school house in Alexandria then. I've never seen the new campus.

There were about 250 students at the start of the semester but about half flunked out or quit by the second semester. It was still part of UVa then as a 'community college'.

I later went on to normal big schools like American University, San Francisco State, Berkeley and George Washington but my first two years were in the tiny micro-university that was George Mason in it's first years. It was a life changing experience.

I was probably the best student in the school. I was certainly the most active. I was a member of every extra-curricular activity and the leader of most. You can't do that at a 'big' school.

BTW you're wrong. The best weather in America (see Rand McNally) is right here in Oakland California but OTOH we are due for a major earthquake a few blocks from my front yard. No place is perfect.


Sam Haysom writes:

It's hard to decide which is greater Caplan's love for immigrants or his generosity (despite this vast love) in choosing to live and work completely insulated from his beloved. I'm curious if he takes equal effort to insulate himself from other beloved things like his family. It's like they say if you love something force other people to live with it.

There's a funny joke in here somewhere about hell for Bryan Caplan is Miami since its neither cosmopolitan nor is it particularly lacking in patriotism if by patriotism you mean nostalgia for conquistador-Cuban dominated 1950s Havana. But we get it yucky patriotism is 40000 white Colorodo Rockies fans standing to sing the nationa anthem. Caplan can't understand the Cubans so how could their patriotism for Cuba annoy him anyways.

RJ writes:

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Lonely Libertarian writes:

Treasure Coast is better - Stuart to Melborne. Traffic is not as insane - which it can be from Jupiter South. Still can get to a major airport in an hour or so. West Palm if you are South of Fort Pierce - Orlando if you are Vero Beach or North. Real estate a bit more reasonable too.

The humidity is awful in the summer - but AC is everywhere.

Points 3 and 4 are big for us but the decider is...
I am sitting in my living room - windows open - short sleeve T-shirt celebrating Christmas.

Happy Christmas to,all🎅

Mike Buckland writes:

As a Floridian my top reason is #2. I make very good money as a statistician and live in a condo that I paid roughly 1/3 of 1 year's salary back in 2010.

Living in a place that probably puts me in the 5-10th percentile for house values for my income range gives lots of cash to put in leisure ventures.

AIG writes:

As an immigrant to the US myself, I find point #5 amusing in its silliness.

I myself can't get away from immigrant communities fast enough because all you will find there is ignorance, ultra-leftist politics and government dependence (or want of such dependence).

Perhaps Bryan has never lived in such communities, but only read about them on libertarian websites.

Most immigrants in Florida, being of Hispanic descent, work as servers and maids and other service industries. I doubt someone like Bryan would ever interact with any such people, in order to escape the boring "patriotism" of the natives.

Too bad Bryan. To find immigrants of your social status, you might still have to end up somewhere in San Jose California.

I'm sure his children too will appreciate the "cosmopolitan tolerance" of the public schools in Orlando or Miami over-run with Dominican gangs.

Thomas L. Knapp writes:

I moved from St. Louis to north central Florida (Gainesville) two years ago next week and haven't seen nearly as much of the state as I'd like, but now that I'm here I'll probably never want to leave (I have entertained the notion of retiring to Arizona, near the Nevada border because I like the desert, but it's just a notion).

It gets hot and humid here, but it gets just as hot and humid in St. Louis. And here it doesn't get nearly as cold or for nearly as long.

Property prices aren't as low as I'd like in Gainesville, and Alachua County has (I've heard) the highest property taxes in the state; when we stop renting and buy it will probably be to the west in Levy County where there property prices are low and taxes even lower. And I'm thinking we may try to retire to the Keys or at least somewhere in south Florida (the closer to the Tropic of Cancer the better!).

Mercy Vetsel writes:

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don wallace writes:

I'm always curious when I read how people reduce "best places to live" or "retire" to weather and expenses. I do get it, I'm not rich, live in a place with high taxes that support an inept union/pension/construction driven state, and so am part of the "living worried." But still--I have to ask the question that doesn't seem to show up on these metrics... Where's the soul, brother?

It's easy for this to be taken as snobbery. But I think that, outside of a political debate on TV, we can all agree that quality matters in food (Applebee's and MacDonald's are worse than any immigrant hole in the mall/wall or non-expense-account French bistro), culture (do they have bookstores, indie movie theaters, plus some kind of art/music/theatre scene), and conversation (do they all repeat talking points from Rush Limbaugh and Fox and value loud agreement over discussion--and yes, do they repeat the latest NPR programs word for word).

So yes, maybe it's snobbery, but where you grew up matters. A sense of place. Character that comes with geography and probably a family history of surviving and maybe succeeding and hanging in there. In wine it's called terroir. In people... towns, regions, cities... Soul?

Florida has some nice stuff but a lot of it is ersatz, prefab, here today and gone tomorrow.

May I recommend a song: "Celebration Florida" by Chumbawumba?

Methinks writes:


It's Nirvana until you try to go anywhere in season and until you get the insurance bill :-)

Still beats sitting in traffic on I-95 between NYC and any town within commuting distance in Connecticut.

Floccina writes:

I live in Florida. The summers are tough and seem to go and on. Nice from October to May. St Augustine my favorite part of the state by far.

Jonathan Goff writes:


I'm glad to live in a country with people who like Florida's weather. It probably helps keep housing prices in places with climates I like more affordable. I'm definitely a Colorado man, and I think your point about revealed preference is pretty spot-on in my case. When I left my old job in California to start my current space startup, I had the choice of any state in the country to move to, and picked Colorado, so it's pretty clear where my preference lie.

Though ironically, I'd probably state most of the same reasons you do:

Weather/Landscape -- I like mountains, low humidity but not bone dry, and a mix of all four seasons (I could live with a shorter summer and winter and a longer spring/fall, but nowhere is perfect).

Politics/Attitude -- As a libertarian, I like mixed nuts. And where I live (east end of Boulder county) is about the right mix of hippies and rednecks. Very live-and-let-live.

And for a space entrepreneur, having several good schools and a wide range of bigger space companies helps provide a good ecosystem to be fishing for employees in.

So, yeah, you can keep Florida or Virginia, I'll stick with CO. :-)


Mike writes:

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