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SEEING RED: THE DISTRIBUTION OF THE FEDERAL BOON

September 28, 2004

The smart kids have been looking at a new Tax Foundation report that lists how states come out on tax receipts relative to the amount of taxes they pay. The results are summarized in the map below. States where the federal governmnent spends more than it collects in taxes are "red" states.

redblue.gif
The smart kids note that this map looks a lot like the 2000 electoral map.

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Does this mean that the "red" states are a bunch of hypocrites who talk a good small government game while gorging at the federal trough? Or does it explain the Bush Administration's "big government conservatism?"

The explanation may be simpler: 1787 and all that. When hashing out the Constitution, the small states were worried that they would be kicked around by the big states (at the time, this meant Virginia and New York) if seats in Congress were distributed only by population. They cut a deal - a two house Congress. The House of Representatives would have seats determined by population (but no less than one seat for each state) and the Senate would have two members from each state, regardless of population.

This means small states are disproportionately well-represented. Their representatives go to Washington and do what comes naturally. In academic terms, they engage in rent-seeking. In more common terms, they "bring home the bacon." Or loot and pillage.

So, if you have a problem with this system, take it up with Roger Sherman.

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(UPDATE/CORRECTION The original "top" map we posted was the same as the electoral map. We thought the correlation looked too close. The top map now reflects the actual 2002 numbers for the Tax Foundation study, made using this handy map-drawing utility. Any errors on the top map are ours, not the Tax Foundation's.)

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