Big-Government Conservatives

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Is George W. Bush a conservative? It all depends on what the meaning of "conservative" is, says The New Republic's Jonathan Chait:

Bush's extremism does not lie in the purity of his devotion to the teachings of Milton Friedman but rather in the slavishness of his fealty to K Street. The distinction is a fine one, but it's highly revealing….The way you tell the difference between a free-marketer and a servant of business is how he behaves when the interests of the two diverge. And all the evidence, including the Medicare and energy bills, points to the conclusion that Bush is happy to throw free-market conservatism out the window when business interests so desire.

Chait lays out the evidence, then offers this conclusion:

All this is in keeping with the recent pattern of Republican governance. Last year, the Associated Press conducted a remarkable study showing how federal spending patterns had changed since the GOP took over Congress in 1995. Republicans did not shrink federal spending, it found, they merely transferred it, from poorer Democratic districts to wealthier Republican ones. This, the A.P. reported, "translates into more business loans and farm subsidies, and fewer public housing grants and food stamps." In 1995, Democratic districts received an average of $35 million more in federal largesse than Republican districts, which seems roughly fair given that Democratic districts have more people in need of government aid. By 2001, the gap had not only reversed, it had increased nearly twentyfold, with GOP districts receiving an average of $612 million more than Democratic ones. Justifying this shift, then-Majority Leader Dick Armey said, "To the victor goes the spoils." It would be a worthy slogan for Bush's reelection campaign.

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  1. They diverted funds away from Democratic districts and increased aggregate spending as well.

    Did they actually divert funding away from Dem districts, or did they simply increase funding to their districts faster?

    Oh, and I agree that the Repubs are a party of spoils and their spending policies are shameful. I’m just in a nitpicky mood today, and unwilling to let pass any attacks on Repub rapacity that seem to imply, in any way, that the Dems are less rapacious when they have the whip hand.

  2. “So they are nothing more than a party of spoils. Just like the Democrats.’

    Democrats believe in using public funding to attack problems, so spending money in low income, urban districts is a sign of their adherence to principal.

    Republicans don’t believe in such a use of public funds, so the zeal with which they hand out spoils is a sign of their hypocrisy. I don’t think your parallel is accurate.

  3. saying that public funding actually “attacks” social problems such as poverty is also hypocrisy

  4. Democrats believe in using public funding to attack problems, so spending money in low income, urban districts is a sign of their adherence to principal.

    This assumes that Dems are more likely to spend money in low-income districts, and that such expenditures are directed toward solving problems in those districts. I would not accept either premise without considerable documentation.

    And this leaves completely untouched the issue of whether wealth transfers and other dependency-inducing government programs are in any way a solution to whatever problems these low-income districts may be experiencing.

  5. By Joe’s logic the Democrats are better people than the Republican, if a little misguided. I can’t say I disagree. That’s sad.

  6. Mr Anon, are you saying Democrats don’t actually, honestly believe in publically funded solutions?

  7. R.C.-

    I’m not trying to suggest that Republicans are paragons of fiscal restraint. But they are bigger hypocrites. Democrats basically say flat-out that they’re going to spend as much money as possible on certain constituencies. And then they do just that. It’s not good, but it’s not surprising either. Anybody who votes for a Democrat knew full well what he was getting into.

    Republicans claim they’re going to cut government spending. And then they pass the pork around with gusto. The Democrats’ stated plans may be worse than the Republicans’ stated plans, but neither party shows any restraint when given unchecked power.

    Since neither party shows fiscal restraint when left unchecked, the question is how to keep them in check. Republicans only oppose government spending when a Democrat is in the White House. Democrats never oppose spending, regardless of who is in the White House. So maybe we should a Democrat in the White House but a House and Senate controlled by Republicans.

  8. they honestly believe in public funding. But even they can see the evidence that such funding is hardly a “solution” to poverty.

  9. From the “remarkable study” citation:
    “For instance, spending on child care food programs was slashed 80 percent”

    We should be so lucky. I’m guessing that the truth is that the rate of increase is what was “slashed 80 percent”

    Punish Bush for his big spending agenda but don’t reward the Democrats in congress because; From the NTU:

    House Democrats called for an average of $417.6 billion in new spending, nearly 13 times more than House Republicans ($32.3 billion). Annualized over 10 years this level of increases ($4.2 trillion) is over twice the size of the tax cuts passed in 2001 and 2003 combined ($1.7 trillion).
    “The results of sponsorship records during the 107th Congress show that there is indeed a difference between Republicans and Democrats: one party proposes bigger government, while the other party proposes much bigger government,”

    http://www.ntu.org/news_room/press_releases/P0310ntuf_pp_145.php3

  10. I’m going to offer another possible explanation: age. My subjective impression is that the older generation is more heavily Republican than the younger, so:

    Republican district=older district=more spending on Medicare, etc., as well as a bigger *increase* in such spending due to people turning 65.

    The cited study doesn’t say whether they looked at only discretionary spending or if Social Security, Medicare, etc., were included as well, although the numbers seem to look like everything was included. I don’t think this explains the whole difference, but I suspect it’s a major factor.

  11. Chuck,
    If that was the case, then there wouldn’t have been a shift. Republican districts would always have had more spending.

    RC
    I’m not sure how the map looks on a district to district level, but on a state by state level, states that voted Dem paid more taxes than states that voted Repub.

  12. Mo brought up one of my favorite studies. I have defended it before on this forum, so I’ll defend it again before the inevitable chorus of “If the author who spent months analyzing data and performing rigorous statistical tests of significance had just thought of the one variable I came up with in 20 seconds then my prejudices would be confirmed” begins.

    The author, Dean Lacy of the Hoover Institute (a rather libertarian outfit, although he’s now at Ohio State), looked at Bush’s margin of victory or defeat in each state, and at the margin between what a state pays on April 15 vs. what it gets at the federal trough. There was a strong statistical correlation between a large margin of victory for Bush in a state and that same state getting more in federal spending than it paid in taxes, using data taken before the 2000 election so that it can’t be explained as Bush rewarding the states that supported him.

    Yes, there were some states that voted for Bush but got screwed on April 15 (e.g. Texas) and some that voted for Gore but did well at the federal trough (e.g. Vermont). But statistical methods look for general trends, and overall the data supports this trend, backed up by some rigorous analyses.

    The author looked at some alternative explanations. He looked to see if the states supporting Bush got most of their spending in military spending while the states that supported Gore got mostly non-defense spending. Nope. When you look at non-defense spending, the correlation between Bush’s margin of victory and the amount of non-defense spending in a state the correlation becomes even stronger. Defense spending has little correlation with Bush’s margin of victory or defeat. Which makes sense: There aren’t many Navy bases in the Great Plains or Rocky Mountain states where Bush got a lot of electoral votes, nor are there many naval bases in land-locked Southern states like Arkansas or Tennessee.

    The author used the composition of a state’s Congressional delegation to see if that could explain things. Adding those variables helps somewhat, but the correlation between non-defense spending and Bush’s margin of victory or defeat remains strong. The author even tried to see if results from the 1996 election could explain things (e.g. the state did well at the federal trough because of how it voted in 1996). Nope. The correlations still remain strong.

    The strongest correlation of all comes when the author factors out spending and simply looks at taxes paid: The more a state pays in per-capita taxes, the stronger Gore’s margin of victory (or the weaker his margin of defeat) on average (with all due statistical qualifiers and caveats added).

    The explanation that makes the most sense to me is this: A state with more urban population is likely to vote for Gore. At the same time, most federal income taxes come from urban areas because that’s where people with more money tend to live. If you want to make a lot of money, it helps to live near a center of commerce and industry, for fairly obvious reasons. (Apply all necessary caveats about well-to-do people who live in rural areas, the fact remains that a lot of well-to-do people will still live near centers of commerce and industry.)

    So it’s inevitable that an urban area will produce a lot of tax money and also produce a lot of votes for Gore, because the people paying most of the taxes are a minority of the population.

    However, even with that urban explanation, the fact remains that there is still a net influx of federal dollars into most of the states that voted for Bush, so clearly those states aren’t as opposed to federal spending as they might claim.

  13. “In 1995, Democratic districts received an average of $35 million more in federal largesse than Republican districts,… By 2001, the gap had not only reversed, it had increased nearly twentyfold,…”

    Why is he suprised? Legislators don’t insert their pork into their opponents bills.

  14. does this comparison account for the fact that some districts switched from Dem to Repub? A handful of greedy districts switching sides could make the average switch sides as well.

    From the AP report: “The biggest spending increases came in districts that stayed Republican since before 1995.”

    Why is he suprised? Legislators don’t insert their pork into their opponents bills.

    Again, from the AP report: “Rather than pork barrel projects for new GOP districts, the change was driven mostly by Republican policies that moved spending from poor rural and urban areas to the more affluent suburbs and GOP-leaning farm country, the computer analysis showed.”

  15. thoreau,

    If “people vote with their pockets books” is true, then, it is paradoxical that red states support tax cuts and blue states oppose tax cuts.

  16. st,

    Since thoreau seems to be recapping an argument he may have gotten from me here (I haven’t seen anyone else make it) I’ll chime in here. The money flows from individuals, not states. In general, the few rich taxpayers around urban areas are subsidizing everyone else in terms of taxes and spending, so the money flows out of these few areas into the rest of the country, whether across state lines or not.

    Red states could non-paradoxically support tax cuts since a minority in a red state could be receiving the inflows from a minority in a blue state. The majority of red state voters could also be losing on balance, even though the net flow is into the state.

    Now whether or not that’s the case when the numbers are crunched, I don’t know. It’d be interesting to see a real economist/statistician look into it, but it would make the whole thing make sense. But looking at the numbers on a state by state basis doesn’t really tell us much, since votes and tax benefits/losses are per individual and not everyone within a state has the same income.

  17. JDM-

    You could very well be the one who first suggested that interpretation (an affluent minority in the blue states subsidizing everybody else in the country), since I’ve discussed these findings before on this forum.

    Now, you say: a minority in a red state could be receiving the inflows from a minority in a blue state

    The red states wouldn’t even need to have a subsidized minority. Say that, hypothetically, federal spending per capita in a state is, more or less, proportional to population. If the tax dollars disproportionately come from the blue states because urbanization attracts wealth (i.e. cities are centers of commerce and industry), then the most urban states will always be net contributors to the federal gov’t while the less urban states will always be net beneficiaries.

    As you say, determining whether or not this is the case requires more analysis. Simply looking to see if spending is proportional to population would be a good first step. (There’s some data to suggest that spending is not strictly proportional to population, and that the Senate is a major reason for this.)

    You also say: But looking at the numbers on a state by state basis doesn’t really tell us much, since votes and tax benefits/losses are per individual and not everyone within a state has the same income.

    Our system of Presidential elections is based on the notion that votes for President should be cast collectively on behalf of the residents of each state by an elite body that moderates the sometimes intemperate will of the people. The majority faction in each state appoints the members of that body. This is generally regarded as a good way to defend individual liberty against majority tyranny. Under that assumption comparisons of states rather than individuals are valid ways to analyze Presidential elections.

    (Why’s everybody looking at me funny? I just said that the Electoral College is a safeguard for individual liberty. Surely everybody else here agrees. What? You question my sincerity? I just said that voting collectively protects individual rights. What could possibly be ironic about that statement?)

  18. thoreau,

    On the correlation between urbanization and Democratic voting, I saw an interesting theory on the site of Amber Pawlik, who is (of all things) an Objectivist Geolibertarian.

    She speculated that urban areas have the highest levels of economic rent from site advantage, and that city dwellers therefore were prone support redistributionist candidates as a means of relief. Presumably, if we switched to the single tax, we’d have fifty Red States.

  19. Kevin-

    What’s the single tax?


  20. Kevin-

    What’s the single tax?

    It’s a property tax that confiscates the rental value of land and natural resources. No other tax is used.

    – Josh

  21. thoreau,

    What Wild Pegasus said. To find out more, you might go to the School of Cooperative Individualism site (google it), or http://www.progress.org. I’ve got several Georgist sites on the “Links” page of mutualist.org, but I’m too lazy to look them up.

    I don’t buy the doctrine myself, because it’s not fair to make a land-owner pay taxes for something beyond his control (i.e., improvements in the surrounding community that increase the value of his land). But Georgists (Nock prominent among them) do make some excellent criticisms of the standard Lockean view of ownership, and also criticize large-scale land-grabbism in terms quite similar to Mises and Rothbard. As Mises said, you don’t see huge tracts of land unless the State has somehow preempted legal right to it, and then distributed it among favored landlord classes, without making them personally appropriate it through labor as Locke required.

    So that’s one area where strict Lockeans like Rothbard agree with the Georgists. As Nock said, if all land not directly appropriated by labor or alteration had remained legally open, the boundary of settled land would probably still be east of the Appalachians. But instead, the U.S. government preempted control of the “public” domain, and parcelled it out by the millions of acres to land speculators, railroads, etc., and let them subsequently charge settlers out the wazoo. Those settlers were the rightful owners; the government-created landlords who charged them for the right to settle were the equivalent of tax-farmers.

  22. One more reason to support the Bigger Government Leftists.

  23. I take issue with Chait’s breezy assumption that Dem districts should rightfully receive more of my tax money because they have more people in need of government aid.

    First, I am not sure that it is true that Dem districts are, as he implies, poorer than Republican districts. Many Repub districts are rural and plenty poor, and many Dem districts are urban or suburban and plenty rich.

    Second, I do not agree that it is an appropriate role of government to redistribute wealth, and so, even if Dem districts are poorer, it does not follow that it therefor right and just that they stick their hands deeper into my pocket.

    Third, does this comparison account for the fact that some districts switched from Dem to Repub? A handful of greedy districts switching sides could make the average switch sides as well.

    Fourth, a more interesting comparison would factor in the taxes paid by each district. If the Repub districts are paying more taxes, why shouldn’t they get more back? Is it unfair for a district that pays a lot of taxes to receive a lot of services and goodies?

    Finally, that last number seems incredible. On average, each Repub district gets over half a BILLION more than a Dem district? The sentence is ambiguous, but that is certainly what it implies.

  24. What RCDean said.

  25. The main problem isn’t that there’s a discrepancy between Democratic and Republican districts per se. If the discrepancy was due to GOP districts paying more in taxes then one could say “Ah, they simply ended redistribution! Good!” And if this discrepancy arose because Republicans cut government spending overall, and just cut it more in Democratic districts, one could say “Ah! They downsized government! Good!”

    But no. They diverted funds away from Democratic districts and increased aggregate spending as well. So they are nothing more than a party of spoils. Just like the Democrats.

    This isn’t to say we should support the Democrats instead. They may be just as bad. But it is to say that the GOP doesn’t deserve any praise for their spending policies.

  26. JDM, it would be clearer if you used the term “metropolitan areas” instead of “urban areas,” since the areas you’re talking about include the suburbs and exurbs of cities. By using the term “urban,” you seem to be referring to “Upper East Side elites” exclusively, when (I think) you also mean to include the people in the subdivisions an hour outside of the city.

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