Red and blue all over again

Kevin Drum is understandably upset that the so-called 'red-states' in general spend more in federal tax money than they generate in tax revenue than the so-called 'blue-states'. And California, being of course one of the blue-states, is a net loser in this federal redistribution of taxes. How infuriating it must be to be a Californian.

Kevin concludes from this data that "red America is living on welfare, and the payments are coming from us commie symps in blue America."

Although on the surface Kevin has much to be angry about, I would like to offer some further analysis.

Kevin's post lumps the population of each state into a collective body, i.e., "red staters complain...", "red staters are on a crusade...", "red staters rant...", etc. An obvious limitation of the data provided by Tax Foundation, is that the data are not broken down further into counties and cities (if such disbursement data are even available). However, it is a given that within each state, certain regions will be net winners while others will be net losers for federal redistribution tax dollars based on demographics.

To draw an analogy, everyone remembers this particular map:


But there was also this other map some may remember:


This second map, which is more exact than the first, leads to some interesting observations. Take for example the state of Oregon, which was a 'blue-state' in the election year 2000 according to the first map, but other than a few populous counties in the northwestern part of the state, was largely red. That is not to say that there are more red individuals than blue; of course the reverse has to be true for it to be a 'blue-state'. I simply point out the fact that collectivizing the state as a monolithic entity is not very good science.

Correspondingly, an even sharper breakdown of the data provided by Tax Foundation would go to the regional level, and ideally, to the individual level, in which individuals would be either 'red' or 'blue' according to how much in taxes they pay and how much government benefit they receive. Of course, this would very difficult to measure; but should the burden be not on the accuser for proof of wrongdoing? In the 2000 election 719,142 Oregonians voted 'blue' whereas 712,547 Oregonians voted 'red.' Is Kevin prepared to claim that only the 'blue' Oregonians voters are subsidizing the net tax beneficiary 'red-states'? Or would leaving out the 712,547 red Oregonians also be not very good science? Perhaps the beneficiary 'red-states' break down similiary at the individual level, having both red individuals and blue individuals in similar numbers. As close as the 2000 national election was, the overall state-by-state tallies were unsurprisingly close also. Is a further breakdown of net tax flows to the regional level, and if possible to the individual level, not necessary to make such a claim?

The only rational conclusion from the data at hand is that no conclusion can be made about the actual voters. It is just as possible that the individuals who voted blue in the 2000 election are red when it comes to tax benefits, and vice versa. It is just as possible that those who voted for lower taxes are net federal tax redistribution losers at the individual level, and those who voted for more federal spending are net tax beneficiaries at the individual level. Without further data, nothing can be concluded. We simply do not know. One would hope that in this enlightened age, progressives would judge people as individuals rather than make ill-considered claims based on collective identity.

Although the data linked by Kevin do not lead to his conclusions, I empathize with his outrage against redistributionist policies which take the fruits of one individual's labor at the point of a gun to give to another.

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For all his supposed

For all his supposed expertise, Drum doesn't seem to understand American government. Regardless of populagtion, each state has two Senators. As a result, thinly populated states can bargain successfully for a greater proportion of federal spoils. This is precisely what the Framers intended. They were concerned that population centers would otherwise acquire undue power.

Libertarians question whether those spoils of federal taxation should exist in the first place. Crypto-socialist Drum is only interested in allocation. On balance, however, it is a relatively small burden on the polity (and the economy) for low-population states to receive disproportionate shares of federal largesse. There is also some practical argument for the disproportion, as it costs more to deliver services to these agrarian and rural areas. Without a viable rural economy, city people would have nothing to eat.