Takers, Makers, and the Fiscal Cliff

No person, no organization, is without its paradoxes and contradictions.  In fact, these often make the person, the organization, more interesting and intriguing.  By this standard—though our President and his party have plenty of paradox and contradiction about them—few persons and organizations in 2012 are more interesting and intriguing than the Republican Party and its recent major nominees, especially as we approach the so-called Fiscal Cliff.

“Top Republicans rushed to do damage control last week,” read a news item a couple of weeks ago, “after Mitt Romney blamed his election loss on what he called an Obama strategy of giving ‘gifts’ to blacks, Latinos and young voters—groups instrumental to the President’s re-election victory.”  Several of his post-election pronouncements reinforce his belief—it wasn’t just a mis- or “inelegant” statement—that 47% of Americans are takers, a sentiment echoed by Paul Ryan’s division of Americans into Takers and Makers—the former being “Republican people,” evidently, the latter being those other guys.

But viewed state by state, this is simply not so.

The picture I used for this post is of a chart published by U.S. News and World Report showing that the top ten states producing more tax revenue than consuming it all voted Democratic, while, paradoxically, all but two of the top ten states that consume—that is take—more tax revenue than they produce voted Republican. This in an article whose title sums up the paradox pretty well:  “Obama Supporters Subsidize Romney Supporters.”  (I had to shrink this chart, so in case it’s impossible to read, the top ten tax-producing states are:  New Jersey, Nevada, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Illinois, Delaware, California, New York, and Colorado.  The ten most tax-dependent: New Mexico, Mississippi, Alaska, Louisiana, West Virginia, North Dakota, Alabama, South Dakota, Kentucky, Virginia.  Of these only New Mexico and Virginia voted Democrat.  Texas is the only net payer of federal taxes among “Red States.”)

The Republican Party is just beginning to show signs of comprehending the fact that the country is growing more diverse, though its first really serious efforts at reaching out to diverse populations (including all women) is being met with understandable suspicion. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, chairman of the Republican Governors Association, recently warned that the party could not broaden its appeal unless it stopped insulting the very voters its was trying to reach.  But it’s even more intriguing than that.  It’s insulting its very base. One could say that Romney and Ryan had it exactly backwards: Takers supported them more than Makers did.  This is part of a phenomenon that’s old hat to political scientists who, many years ago, named it the Red State-Blue State paradox.  It’s complex.  Columbia University’s Andrew Gelman and his colleagues even called this paradox into question in their 2008 Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State.  (I’d recommend the article of much the same name, and focused on Connecticut, out of which the book grew.)

Still, imminent danger—going over a cliff, for example—has a way of wonderfully clarifying issues.  Most people, it seems, would lose if the current Washington stalemate continues.  To the degree that the Red State-Blue State paradox holds, the Blue States would certainly have to give much more, but the Red ones would certainly lose much more as well.  Perhaps the ultimate paradox is that Republican law makers aren’t just insulting the very voters they’re trying to reach, they’re taking away from most of the very voters who already support them.  If these supporters ever got wise—questionable if they keep listening to Fox News and Rush Limbaugh—it would be an even bigger lose-lose proposition for the GOP politically.  Economically, it would be lose-lose for everyone.

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