From the Comments: Red State Blue State Edition

Now that I have a trusty laptop again, I can answer questions and discuss comments a bit more efficiently. Hank Moore asked the following question in response to a link I provided on Left-wing secessionist sentiment:

That California piece was good. What’s your take on the whole red states mooching off the blue states thing? I keep hearing this whenever the secession question comes up. Those few libs who don’t want to confiscate Texas from the Texans say “good riddance, you’re a tax burden anyways!”

It doesn’t quite fit into my version of the conventional wisdom for some reason. [1] Are the blue states paying more than their “fair share” simply because they are underrepresented and thus the fault is the constitution, or [2] is it because they already have large populations they naturally attract big businesses in spite of the fact they aren’t as friendly to free enterprise, and because of this there is more tax revenue to be collected? [3] And then there’s the fact that some red states may in fact still be feeling the effects of being on the losing side of the Civil War (scorched earth warfare, unconditional surrender, reconstruction). These are the three possible explanations that fit with my way of thinking. Maybe its just that I’m cherry-picking “evidence” for a conclusion I’ve already arrived at.

Any thoughts?

All three of Hank’s reasons are good, but I’d like to zoom in on the last one about the Civil War. I think has the gist of why many red states are poorer than blue states, but with a couple of tweaks.

I think the effects of the Civil War have long since ceased to be a factor in the South’s relative poverty, but the legacy of both slavery and Jim Crow laws still play an important role in the South’s underdevelopment. While slavery certainly helped the US become a world power in a relatively short period of time, the effects that the peculiar institution had on the economic, political and social life of Southerners are overwhelming. In short: very few people in the South got rich off of slavery, slavery retarded the social capacity of the Southerner, and while it helped to produce a number of world-class political theorists (for better or for worse) such quality was erased from Southern society after the Civil War.

Jim Crow was entirely different. Everybody knows that money makes the world go round (whether we like it or not) and the laws created to segregate Southern society helped nobody, including poor whites who stood to gain from such laws. Slavery, by contrast, helped the northern states out and enriched the class of Southerners who produced Mencken’s “Ur-Confederates.” Jim Crow simply made things worse by making it illegal to do business with large swathes of the Southern population, black or white.

In short: the South is culturally, politically, and economically underdeveloped due to its long history of slavery and state-sponsored racial segregation. This is changing as we speak, but it’s still going to take a long time to recover from 400 years of state-sponsored oppression.

On points 1 and 2: blue states don’t pay more than their fair share. That’s just a tired old hickory stick that partisans use to beat the other side over the head with. Check out these graphics in the Economist! A more in-depth answer would probably require us to look at state-level policies and then compare them with each other. At the state level, though, political parties look nothing like the national coalitions, so such an endeavor might not be able to tell us a whole lot. We might look at federal programs that don’t attract a lot of public attention, such as agriculture, to figure out why some states get more than their fair share and others don’t. The graphic provided by the Economist suggests this may be the case.

Great question Hank!

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