D. Dowd Muska


What Red States Get Wrong

January 06, 2011

Okay, red states, we get it. You rock.

The data emerging from last year’s census confirm decades-long trends. Regions where collectivists dominate -- the Northeast, Rust Belt, and Pacific Coast -- are struggling, if not stagnant. The South and Intermountain West, where conservatives and libertarians prevail, are prosperous and growing.

Pick a metric. Population expansion? Job creation? Income growth? Energy prices? Reform-driven student achievement? In red states, they’re generally moving in desirable directions. There are good reasons why Texas will pick up four congressional seats, while New York will lose two. Low taxes, right-to-work laws, respect for private property, and subdued public employees make the Lone Star State and its pro-growth ilk (Idaho, Utah, Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida) attractive places for entrepreneurs and relocators.

But its richly deserved accolades shouldn’t blind us to red-state America’s ugly underbelly. Some disturbing facts about the nation’s successful regions are difficult to ignore.

Let’s start with fiscal policy. Yes, taxes are lower and government is smaller in the South and West. But “hypocrisy” is too kind a word to describe their citizens’ perspective on fedpork. The Tax Foundation calculates the amount of revenue states send to the IRS, and compares it to what they get back in federal spending. The five biggest beneficiaries are New Mexico, Mississippi, Alaska, Louisiana, and West Virginia -- not spots where you’ll encounter many Prius-driving yoga instructors.

Timothy Egan, a former correspondent for The New York Times, explained where much of that booty lands: “The Red State welfare program, also known as the farm subsidy system, showers most of its tax dollars on the richest farmers, often people with no dirt under their fingernails, at the expense of everybody else trying to work the land. Like urban welfare before reform, agriculture subsidies reward those who can work the system -- farming the government, as they call it around the diner.”

But it’s not just agriculture on the Great Plains and down in Dixie. Washington largesse benefits the extractive industries that operate on “public” lands. Cartoonist Tom Toles accurately described the West as a “fiercely independent region of the U.S., where the proud traditions of welfare logging, welfare mining and welfare ranching continue to this very day.”

The military-industrial complex wastes uncountable taxpayer dollars, hypes “threats” that pose little or no danger to national security, and fosters resentment of the U.S. all over the globe. These realities are lost on legions of red staters, who reliably back Washington’s global meddling. Historian David Hackett Fischer found that “from the quasi-war with France [in 1798] to the Vietnam War,” Southerners “strongly supported every American war no matter what it was about or who it was against.” In January 2003, a Los Angeles Times reporter recorded this insight, offered by a Charleston firefighter: “I’m convinced what’s-his-name has nukes and sponsors terrorism. That’s reason enough for war.”

Finally, although it’s not nice to nag, red states contain an awful lot of self-destructive folks. The divorce rate in moonbat Massachusetts is half that of God-fearing Alabama. New York’s neurotic hipsters end their marriages at a rate 41 percent lower than family-values Idahoans.

Obesity rates, according to the Trust for America’s Health and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, are tops in Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Louisiana. Smoking, another voluntary but nonetheless boneheaded behavior, is most popular in West Virginia, Indiana, and Kentucky. In California, New Jersey, and Maryland -- as well as in deep-red, but even deeper Mormon, Utah -- less than 15 percent of adults use cigarettes.

And while there’s little connection between violent-crime rates and red/blue status, it’s worth noting that many left-leaners (Oregon, Vermont) are super-safe, while several of their cultural opposites (Nevada, Arkansas) are not.

Poor decisionmaking -- on New Year’s Eve, reported Mobile’s Press-Register, police responded to “several reports of celebratory gunfire” -- means shorter lives. Some of the looniest-liberal states (Massachusetts, Connecticut, California) are marked by impressive longevity. By now, the five life-expectancy laggards should come as little surprise: Mississippi, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, West Virginia.

In a 2006 article on outsourcing, Wired snarkily observed the phenomenon of customer-service calls being “answered in underdeveloped areas of the world like Bangalore and South Carolina.” Even as red states clean their competitors’ clocks economically, such condescension remains common.

Yet snobby attitudes aside, there’s more than a few kernels of truth in bluish critiques of Red State, U.S.A. Sadly, perfection isn’t attainable -- at least in this world. Those of us who look forward to escaping high-tax, overregulated, union-controlled hellholes won’t like everything about our new homes.

D. Dowd Muska (www.dowdmuska.com) writes about government, economics, and technology. Follow him on Twitter @dowdmuska.

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