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Being Politically Incorrect

20 February 2011 @ 18:23

Stacy has an awesome post up about government largess, the size of the federal government, and where money goes.  He makes it clear that the size and power of the federal government has done all sorts of things to distort our economy, so that we are spending money and investing talent and capital to do what the government rewards, rather than what generates wealth. (Also, as a young person, I thank him for pointing out that a lot of government policies are functionally transfers of money through generations – Social Security being one example.  Those who struggle to pay their bills, rack up debt trying to put food on the table, have crummy health care because we can’t afford any better, and cannot start a retirement fund should feel some anger that we’re paying 15% of our income to the older generations.)

He links to the (thoroughly disingenuous) “Red State/Blue State” spending study, which is meant to show that Republicans are actually recipients of government money, and are thus total hypocrites.  (Now, Frankels threw a line through his data and called it a correlation, but fails to provide an R-squared value for it.  Given the way that the data spread out towards the higher-recipient states, the “correlation” is likely just Frankel’s prejudice.  Also, if you’re a stats nerd, check out the vertical axis.  Can you say “non-linear”?) “Unexpectedly”, very blue Washington DC is not included in this study.

First, although Jeff Frankels admits that the “red state/blue state” thing is overdone, he fails to perform any sort of rudimentary analysis on who within those states is receiving money.  A state that is, for example, 60% Republican and 40% Democrat is obviously very red, but that doesn’t mean that Republicans are getting 60% of the money that flows through that state from the federal government.  Rather, it could very well be that the liberals in the state are among the 47% of Americans who pay no income tax, and then also receive federal government benefits (e.g.welfare, Medicaid, SCHIP, Social Security).  Yes, folks, Social Security is probably part of Frankel’s data set, which just means that retirees like red states, not that they are drains on the economy.

Second, land area matters. Alaska is frequently cited as a huge taker of federal funds per capita.  In a related statistic, blue Austin, Texas takes in much more money per surfable wave than does red San Diego.  The federal government owns 375 million acres of land in Alaska, which is about 1/5th the size of the continental US (think slightly smaller than a time zone).  Alaska has the smallest population of any American state.  So yes, when the feds have to spend money managing more land in that state than any other state, and it has the smallest population, it will spend a lot of money there per capita.  (Look at this chart and then at Frankel’s data, and it quickly becomes clear that his interpretation is lacking in rigour.)

Also, if you’re going to put a military base somewhere, and you have to take land by eminent domain and pay people for it, would you rather put that military base in a place like Dayton, Ohio, or Manhattan?  Alabama or Chicago?  If you’re going to find a place to build military equipment, is it going to be in San Francisco or Mississippi?  The “income” which flows to red states is not a result of mooching or special favours (as Frankel incorrectly asserts); it’s sound fiscal policy to put a base or manufacturing operation in an inexpensive red state.

Third, let’s talk about race.  Yes, race.  One alternate way to view the data is by race.  Remove states in which the federal government controls an inordinate amount of the land in the state (e.g. Alaska, 69.9%; Nevada, 84.5%; New Mexico, Arizona, California, Oregon – hell, start at Montana and move down and west), and then re-do the federal expenditure analysis.  That leaves us with the top “giving” states as New Jersey, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Minnesota,  and Illinois; the biggest recipient states are Mississippi, Louisiana, West Virginia, Alabama, Kentucky, Virginia. According to US Census data (2009), four of those six highest-mooching states have an African-American population of above 20%, compared to a national average of 12.9%.   Ninety-three percent of African-Americans voted for Obama, and are usually at least 80% liberal.  In comparison, two of the five biggest “giving” states have African-American populations below 5% (NH, at 1.4%, and MN, at 4.7%), and the remaining three are close to the national average. So if you wanted to re-do the data set, with a different y-axis (i.e. percent African-American population) you certainly could, and it would indicate a strong correlation between amount of money given to a state and minority population.

Is that a productive way to analyse federal government spending?  Probably not, but neither is Frankel’s “red state” nonsense.

  1. bobbelvedere permalink*
    21 February 2011 @ 00:18 00:18

    You’re good.

  2. 21 February 2011 @ 10:38 10:38

    Roxeanne: Bravo! You’ve done an excellent job analyzing this red state/blue state study. I myself analyzed it and came to similar conclusions (It is virtually impossible to disaggregate the data further than state by state).

    However, I tried on several occasions to write about what I found, but I just couldn’t present it in a way that was compelling and not boring. You have succeeded where I’ve failed.

  3. 21 February 2011 @ 14:54 14:54

    Silverfiddle: thank you. 🙂

    One of the other big problems is that liberals have a U-shaped distribution of voters by income – i.e. they get the high school dropouts in huge numbers, the super-rich in huge numbers, and a small chunk of the middle class. The conservatives in Massachusetts are probably demographically similar to the conservatives in Texas and Alaska, but the liberals are not. The liberals in Massachusetts are wealthy and drive Mercedes; the liberals in Mississippi are dirt-poor farmers.

    • bobbelvedere permalink*
      21 February 2011 @ 15:04 15:04

      Roxe: Congrats on the Shaidle-lanche!

  4. 21 February 2011 @ 23:31 23:31

    About government largess… you’re referring to Michelle’s butt, yeh?

  5. 22 February 2011 @ 07:34 07:34

    Ran: I don’t think I would feel so compelled to make fun of that woman, but for the fact that the entire press insists on saying that she’s as stylish as Jackie O., and that she’s going on this anti-obesity/pro-health food kick.

    Sarah is more stylish, much prettier, skinnier, and has healthier kids than does Michelle, but it’s the latter that we’re supposed to take weight-loss and fashion advice from? Such crap – and more of the Obamas pretending to be who Sarah (and other conservatives) is.


  1. ‘Third, let’s talk about race. Yes, race’ | Five Feet of Fury

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