University of Chicago Center in Beijing

University of Chicago Center in Beijing

Hansen:"Give ‘Em What (They Say) They Want"

Posted by University of Chicago Center in Beijing on 8. Mar 2012

John Mark Hansen is the dean of Social Science Division of University of Chicago. He is one of the nation's leading scholars of American politics and a Charles L. Hutchinson Distinguished Service Professor.And he has focused his research on interest groups, citizen activism, public opinion, public budgeting, and politicians' inferences from the outcomes of elections.Here is one of his articles talking about American politics and election.

Hansen: Give ‘Em What (They Say) They Want


Lost in the endless debates over the United States government budget is a curious fact: In general, the people yelling the loudest about a too-big federal government are the representatives of states that benefit the most from the current patterns of federal taxes and spending.

The figure below plots the relationship between the payback each state receives from its federal taxes and the level of its electoral support for the Republican Party. The horizontal axis shows the amount each state received in federal spending for every dollar it paid in federal taxes, according to the nonpartisan Tax Foundation, whose figures (from 2005) are the most thorough and the most recent available. The vertical axis gives each state’s vote for George W. Bush in 2004, the contemporaneous election that provides the clearest recent illustration of the red-blue divide that lately defines our politics. In general, the figure shows, the greater the return a state receives from its federal taxes the greater its voters’ support for the party that advocates less government, the Republicans.

The pattern arises from the concentration of federal taxes in the blue states and the concentration of federal spending in the red states. The federal income tax structure is still mildly progressive, so high-producing, high-income states like New York ($0.79 per $1.00), New Jersey ($0.61), Massachusetts ($0.82), Illinois ($0.75), and California ($0.78) contribute a disproportionate share of federal revenues.

On the spending side, with all the dollars that go to the military, defense contractors, tax-subsidized energy producers, and farm-program participants, federal outlays tend to flow to the southern, western, and plains states. And so, of course, do the hundreds of thousands of “snowbirds” who take their Social Security and Medicare, their veteran’s benefits, and their federally-tax-subsidized retirement accounts along with them to places like South Carolina ($1.35), Mississippi ($2.02), and New Mexico ($2.03).

Sitting here in Illinois, I can only dream of the generously-endowed public schools, the gleaming infrastructure, indeed even the fully-funded teacher’s, police, and firefighter’s pensions that we could have with the 25 cents of every one of our tax dollars that Washington spends somewhere else. So let the fire-eaters in Louisiana ($1.78), Alabama ($1.66), Alaska ($1.84), South Dakota ($1.53), and Kentucky ($1.51) figure out how to wean themselves from the public dole. They do not seem to appreciate the help we give them.


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