Krugman Sees Red
by W. James Antle III
June 10, 2002
Libertarian commentator James Ostrowski had an excellent piece on the Mises Institute's website that belatedly called my attention to an obnoxious New York Times op-ed by economist Paul Krugman entitled "True Blue Americans."
The latter column was the latest attempt by a Democratic partisan to make sweeping moral judgments about the states colored red on the famous USA Today electoral map - indicating that they voted for Republican George W. Bush (right) in the 2000 presidential election - and compare them negatively to the virtuous residents of the blue-colored states that voted for Democrat Al Gore. The most infamous example was Paul Begala's MSNBC.com article that basically smeared red-state voters as racists and lynch-mob members, but Krugman has decided to weigh in on the red versus blue debate a year and a half later.
Krugman, you might recall, was once known for his economic writings and he often effectively debunked urban myths regarding international trade. Since he has delved into political commentary for The New York Times he has descended into shrill Democratic polemics that seem to find Republicans, the Bush administration and their corporate allies behind every evil.
This op-ed piece started promisingly, with Krugman opposing the recent increase in farm subsidies and pointing out the key role Senate Democrats played in securing $180 billion in farm-state and corporate welfare over the next ten years. (He is also admittedly right that President Bush caved on the farm-subsidies increase.) Unfortunately, he simply used the agricultural subsidies issue as a springboard for jumping on the red states and the article quickly deteriorated into another tired Democrat screed.
Krugman's thesis is that the red states - as a proxy for conservative Republicans who voted for Bush - are not really as self-reliant, family-oriented and law-abiding as they are cracked up to be. Without citation, he rattles off some statistics comparing the red states and the blue states that seem to show more crime, divorce, illegitimacy and government dependency in the former than the latter. He triumphantly asserts that the blue states subsidize the red states "to the tune of $90 billion or so each year," implying that hypocritical Republicans are really living off the toil of Democrats.
Ostrowski, who like this writer lives in a blue state, questioned Krugman's analysis. Krugman argued that the murder rate in the red states was 7.4 per 100,000 inhabitants compared to 6.1 per 100,000 in the blue states and 4.1 in the economist's home state of New Jersey. Ostrowski rightly wondered what would happen if you looked at cities and counties rather than states.
This is a key observation. After all, Missouri was a red state but the murders largely take place in St. Louis, which went Democratic. Georgia was a red state but the rural and suburban areas that made it so have much lower murder rates than Democratic Atlanta. In Krugman's New Jersey, surely there are more murders in Democratic Newark than there are in some of the rural areas of the state that vote Republican. To quote Ostrowski, "The places with the fewest Republican votes - such as the inner city - have the highest rates of murder. Focusing on states as opposed to localities obscures this obvious fact."
Were the Gore voters really more family-friendly than the Bush voters? A look at some less misleading data would suggest the answer is no. According to CNN, Bush beat Gore (left) among married voters generally by 53 percent to 44 percent and among voters who were married with children by 56 percent to 41 percent. Bush also beat Gore among the most religiously observant voters, who tend to have the most conservative attitudes about family values. Bush took 63 percent of voters who attend religious services more than once a week and 57 percent of those who do so weekly; Gore won 54 percent of those who seldom attend religious services and 61 percent of those who never do.
Bush carried 54 percent of the white vote but only 9 percent of the black vote and 35 percent of the Hispanic vote. In 1999, the out-of-wedlock birth rate was 27 percent among whites, 47 percent among Hispanics and 69 percent among blacks. Can Krugman seriously suggest that Gore voters had a lower out-of-wedlock birth rate when he carried 90 percent of the demographic group whose rate was highest?
As far as the Gore voters paying the bills while Bush voters collect, support for the GOP ticket was inversely proportional to income based on six income brackets ranging from incomes under $15,000 to incomes over $100,000. Gore won 57 percent of the votes of those earning less than $15,000 while Bush carried 54 percent of voters earning more than $100,000. Although many of the beneficiaries of corporate welfare, farm subsidies and non-means-tested entitlements are far from poor, it is also true that the highest income earners supply the most income tax revenue. In 1999 alone, the top 1 percent of income earners paid 33 percent of the personal income taxes collected. Ostrowski theorizes, "If red states are subsidized by blue states, the only rational explanation is that red persons in blues states are subsidizing blue persons in red states."
There is probably something to this. Consider that Bush carried every Southern state, including Gore's Tennessee and Bill Clinton's Arkansas. These states nevertheless have very large black populations that vote heavily Democratic. These are Democratic voters living in states that went Republican in the presidential election who have higher rates of poverty and out-of-wedlock births.
One aspect of the blue/red state divide that Krugman curiously does not expound upon is that by voting for politicians who will expand the redistributive powers of the federal government, many blue state voters are actually voting against their economic self-interest. Democrats dominate New Jersey's congressional delegation - and Republicans who have represented New Jersey in recent decades have largely been liberals like the late Clifford Chase and Millicent Fenwick, along with Rep. Marge Roukema - yet Krugman observes that they still pay more in taxes than they receive in services from the federal government. No matter how many federal projects Ted Kennedy brings home, Massachusetts's voters are still net taxpayers to the federal government.
None of this should be interpreted as some simple-minded "red states good, blue states bad" mantra. There is great variety within the states and within the demographic groups profiled in this article. If you want to see complex demographic information distorted to score cheap political points, please read Paul Krugman instead. ***
© 2002 W. James Antle III
COPYRIGHT © 2002 BY THE AMERICAN PARTISAN. All writers retain rights to their work.