Saturday, March 17, 2012

Red State Blue State

Part of my ongoing correspondence. My uncle mentioned the great hypocritical irony of blue states supporting red ones, of red states that received much per dollar sent and blue ones that received little. My original replay was that the numbers looked very different when you broke it out by county, and the state breakdown was misleading. He accused me of being evasive, and not attending to the real data, aending along the following list: States Receiving Most in Federal Spending Per Dollar of Federal Taxes Paid:
1. D.C. ($6.17)
 2. North Dakota ($2.03)
 3. New Mexico ($1.89)
4. Mississippi ($1.84)
5. Alaska ($1.82)
6. West Virginia ($1.74)
7. Montana ($1.64)
8. Alabama ($1.61)
9. South Dakota ($1.59)
10. Arkansas ($1.53)

States Receiving Least in Federal Spending Per Dollar of Federal Taxes Paid:
1. New Jersey ($0.62)
2. Connecticut ($0.64)
3. New Hampshire ($0.68)
4. Nevada ($0.73)
5. Illinois ($0.77)
6. Minnesota ($0.77)
7. Colorado ($0.79)
8. Massachusetts ($0.79)
9. California ($0.81)
10. New York ($0.81)
My reply:

There are two separate subjects here. First, the specific data about who sends money to Washington and who gets it back. Second, why it is important to liberals to divide things into Red States and Blue States. I have seen other lists with less dramatic numbers but similar results, so I’m guessing that different things are being counted, but the trend is real. I am not contesting that for what it measures, the list of which states are net givers and which are net receivers is accurate. The problem with the data, as I suggested when I noted you get a different reading when breaking down by counties, is that suburbs, towns, and small cities pay for everything and are purple. Look at the lists again and you will see that it is highly related to population density.

Big cities and rural areas are a drain, though in different ways. But cities have one big advantage for the government, and it is why many environmentalists are advocating that people be encouraged to move to cities (quite a reverse from where they started, eh?). You can deliver services much more efficiently there. Rail passenger service is only cost-effective at high population density, for example. Delivery costs of food and goods is less. You can build one big Something rather than a lot of little ones. Highway construction is much more expensive per mile in Trenton, but you have way fewer miles to build than in North Dakota. The Big Dig in Boston was insanely over cost and probably a long time before it pays for itself. But it serves a lot of people, and I’ll bet without even checking that there are highways in West Virginia far more useless. Yet because the final number isn’t as big, it doesn’t get the press.

 It is still ironic that ranchers getting fewer, but longer and emptier highways, don’t mentally count this cost when they think about “government,” but it’s part of the entitlement mentality we all have. Highways are part of the furniture. Also, the government owns a lot of the land out west – Yellowstone doesn’t cost a fortune to administer, but it doesn’t pay anything in taxes either. Rural areas are receivers of agricultural subsidies and related crap. A lot of those growing areas aren’t especially red – Iowa, Minnesota, Colorado. Most of those central states are pretty well divided – agricultural welfare remains a bipartisan problem, which is why we can’t even get rid of the sugar subsidy.

The money comes in from the purple suburbs, towns, and small cities, as I noted. They don’t get so much back. Think where the money goes back out to. One big ticket item is military bases. But those are only partly tied to a local economy, and hardly to a state’s economy at all. Twenty miles out, the effect is pretty weak. So when the feds shovel money into Camp Pendleton, San Luis Obispo doesn’t see a lot of that bread. Yet by the calculations of the list you sent, it would look like some big windfall for “California.” Look at the list again and you won’t see a lot of places known for their military bases. Population density. That land is put to the use of underlying homes and businesses.

So the list is an interesting data point that tells us something, and it does have its ironies. But drawing a red-blue conclusion from it is pretty sketchy. The purple areas pay the bills.

 Second, the need for liberals to keep dividing things this way. Other groups have followed their lead, and to a smaller extent, some have even embraced that thinking. But generally, before you have looked at a single number or label, when you see a map or list that is drawing a Red State Blue State comparison, that map has been drawn by a liberal to show how good the people in the blue states are, and how bad those awful reddies are. Try it at home. The large exception is electoral maps, which necessarily have to be conceptualized by states. Yet even here, the automatic thinking of all political events in terms of electoral power is much heavier on the left. It’s rather chilling whenever some current legislator dies how quickly you can find writers in the Huffington Post speculating on who can be run for that office, and what the chances are of Democrats winning it. Before the body is even cold. (And yes, now that the phenomenon has been noticed, there are conservative sites who track it.) Republicans aren’t innocents on that and do some of the same. Right now they are doing altogether too much of it with the Texas-California thing. But it’s damn revealing.

Back to the map-drawing and list-making by states. I don’t think the liberal focus on this is a good thing. It obscures a lot of important information, as above. States are not that homogeneous, even the small ones like New Hampshire. But there is a deeper need, quite unattractive. It is the need to demonise, to put people into convenient categories and just regard them as stupid or evil. I have always thought that liberals are quick to accuse others of racism or sexism because they are projecting. They think that is how the world works, that people just naturally divide others into competitive categories. They focus on one set of divisions where they think they are more innocent, ignoring the ones where they are worse.

This relates to the other reason it is liberals driving the red state-blue state conceptualization of the country. They are actually only about 15-19% of the voting population. They are the leaders (dare I say rulers) of a coalition which includes blacks and unions plus some smaller groups. But being able to paint a whole state blue, and discussing everything in terms of the near-balance between Us and Them allows them to inflate their impression of who agrees with them. Which is why they are always amazed when stuff like Sandra Fluke polls against them.* The left-right political division is a leftist conceptualization from the early 20th C that they have used to great effect. But countries aren’t really divided that way, none of them, never have been. There have always been a variety of groups with shifting interests – just like countries, which sometimes switch sides in a war.

 *How can that be? I thought more than half the country supported women’s rights? Why does more than half the country hate the poor and women? Uh, check your premises, that’s how. And whenever feeling righteous is on the line, liberals stop thinking. Okay, that’s true of everyone. But for some reason it is just a million miles from liberal understanding. It’s a mob psychology that scares the pants off me.


Gringo said...

AVI, are you on a paragraph strike?

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Thanks. I was composing in the wrong mode.

karrde said...

I assume, from the list shown, that Washington DC is a Red quasi-State.

Or something.

Or did your uncle not notice that?

Sam L. said...

What's The Matter With Kansas? Nothing. The problem is Mr. Franks knowing what is best for Kansans, and the Kansans disagreeing with him.

bs king said...

Think about the data? Next you'll be suggesting people should read Supreme Court decisions before they quote them.

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