Things To Act
Friday, January 30, 2004
 
Why do I keep citing the New York Times? Who knows.
This editorial in today's NYTimes struck a nerve, if only because it's so badly argued. The author's basic thesis is that Red states are more likely to receive more money from the federal government than they pay in taxes, while Blue states are more likely to pay more than they receive, which is supposed to be ironic, since Republicans favor limited government and Democrats don't.

The major flaw in the author's logic is that he presents no data over time, and no analysis of the underlying numbers to attempt to explain why things are they way they are. Simply looking at the map, at least two things immediately strike me. First is that the entire South, except for Texas, is in the Taker category--could this not have something to do with the well-documented comparatively worse socioeconomic situation in the South (going back to Reconstruction)? Second is that population density seems to be a big factor as well. States in the West and in the heartland seem to be disproportionately Takers (and, coincidentally, tend to be more culturally conservative--Red states), while states on the West coast and in the Northeast (Blue states) tend to be Givers. But is ideology the most important factor here? For starters, many infrastructure projects (such as highways) are based on geography--hence, areas of high population density will tend to spend less per capita on such projects, while areas of low population density will tend to spend more (and everyone benefits, even if only indirectly, from an cross-continent interstate system). Ceterus peribus, we would expect densely populated states to spend less per capita on many projects, while income taxes tend to follow population.

Ultimately, the author's point is far from proven, as the data he presents are so incomplete. If his argument was limited only to pork projects (by whose definition?), he might be onto something, though unless he could show that the Democrats, in their most recent 40 years, were not just as bad, he still wouldn't have a valid point. But the data as presented simply don't tell us enough to draw any political conclusions one way or the other. Normally, I'd be one of the first to argue that the budgetary process needs significant reform, and that Republicans are spending too much. But this argument (and most arguments that the Democrats would be better) borders on the ridiculous.

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