Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

20 November 2012

GDP for Obama II, and Who’s Really a “Taker”

[For comment on the future of the South, click here.]

After the 2008 presidential election, I ran a spreadsheet on the fractions of national GDP of states that preferred President Obama and John McCain, both by any margin and by a margin of 20% or more. The results, shown in this 2008 post, were instructive.

Nearly three-quarters of the nation’s productive capacity preferred Obama to McCain, and over a third preferred him by 20% or more. A little over one-quarter of the nation’s productive capacity preferred McCain, and only 5% preferred him by a margin of 20% or more.

The following table shows the same numerical analysis for this year’s election and compares it to the results for 2008:

Fraction of National GDP Preferring Obama and his Opponents
Year and OpponentStates Preferring Obama by 20% or MoreStates Preferring ObamaStates Preferring OpponentStates Preferring Opponent by 20% or More

The results in 2012 were not quite as overwhelming a productive rout as those in 2008. But still, two-thirds of our state-by-state productivity preferred Obama, and over one quarter preferred him by a margin of 20% or more. Less than one-tenth of our productivity preferred Mitt by a similar margin.

Another instructive numerical exercise is analyzing which candidate’s supporters are net “takers” of federal taxes. The latest easily available data of state-by-state federal tax payments is for 2006. I took these data and made a spreadsheet for the same categories of states (from the 2012 election) in the preceding table. In order to make the numbers meaningful, I took population-weighted averages of the state-by-state tax receipt/payment ratios in each category. The results are as follows:

Ratios of 2006 Federal Taxes Received to Taxes Paid
(Population-Weighted Averages)
YearStates Preferring Obama by 20% or MoreStates Preferring ObamaStates Preferring MittStates Preferring Mitt by 20% or More

What does this table mean? On a per-capita average, states that voted for Obama received only 91 cents for every federal tax dollar they paid, while states that voted for Mitt received $1.22. The more lopsided the margin, the more lopsided the receipts: states that preferred Obama by 20% or more received only 85 cents for every dollar of federal tax they paid, while states that preferred Mitt by the same margin received $1.36.

This analysis puts Mitt’s “takers” rant in perspective, doesn’t it? State by state, the folks who voted for him are “takers,” and the more they preferred him, the more they took.

Sources: State-by-state GDP fractions for 2011 came from this BEA interactive table. The 2006 state-by-state ratios of federal taxes received to paid came from this table (scroll down). The state population figures for population-weighted averaging were 2010 figures from this table. The state-by-state voting figures came from the tables in the Washington Post, for 2012 here.

Joe Klein, Watching Fox, and the Civil War’s Final End

Of all the so-called “mainstream” pundits, Joe Klein of Time Magazine is the most clear-eyed, and the best writer. His column in the venerable weekly—all by itself—justifies paying the price of a subscription.

Klein has another virtue. Unlike many print pundits, he does not seek visual celebrity or extra income by appearing incessantly on TV. At least I’ve never seen him on anyTV news show.

In resisting the temptations of video celebrity, Klein recognizes an essential truth of modern media. Whether on line or on dead trees, “print” is a medium cooler, more reflective, and ultimately more accurate than video.

Print recognizes a basic evolutionary truth. Our species requires processing—what we call “thought”—to reorganize the impressions of our five senses into anything like fidelity to objective reality, let alone perspective. Sleep, it turns out, assists in that processing, which is why we go mad without it.

Writing both reflects and requires mental processing. Impromptu speaking and herky-jerky camera tracking do not. It is doubtful whether civilization as we know it could have emerged without writing.

As evidence of these points, you need look no further than Klein’s column on our recent election, which I just read belatedly (Time Magazine, Commemmorative Election Special, November 19, 2012, page 39, 41).

The column’s title, “Obama’s Mandate for Moderation,” gives away its principal point. Both the President’s re-election and Mitt’s last, desperate, pirouetting “pivot” signaled our electorate’s innate distaste for extremism.

Unlike so many conventional wise men, Klein also noted that circumstances now make moderation more, not less, likely. Those circumstances include the very real possibility of the GOP becoming a permanent minority party, except on a limited regional basis.

Klein’s insight went even further. In his lead paragraph, he wrote:
”The South, though a more complex region than ever before, won’t rise again until it resolves the issues that have marked its difference from the rest of the country since the land was colonized.”
In other words, after 147 years the South has finally lost the Civil War. It has done so despite a century-long counter-revolutionary ideological movement. It has lost despite driving the nation ever rightward since the end of World War II. And it has done so despite numerous guerrilla ideological victories, including causing the word “Southern” to predominate in the names of businesses (over the word “American”) far north of the Mason-Dixon Line.

The South’s final loss came not with a bang, but a whimper. Its governing culture of bossism, racism and European-style aristocracy (once based on land, now on wealth generally) may continue in some places, such as Alabama, Mississippi and South Carolina, for another generation or two.

But the South has lost the ability to command ideological allegiance, even attention, from the vast center of America, let alone its more productive parts. The paternal authoritarianism of John Boehner and Mitch McConnell’s barely suppressed smug smirk have morphed into a cautious realism now that their best days are over.

It will take some time for this truth to sink in, especially in the South. The South’s beating heart (in Viginia) went decisively for a “black” man. The seat of its modern industrial renaissance (in North Carolina) did so in 2008 and almost (but not quite) did again this year. Not only that, the President is a “black” man whose policies the South’s propaganda machines—and one of the best salesmen ever to run for president—characterized relentlessly (if inaccurately) as “liberal,” “socialist” and extreme. Yet he won a clear, nationwide victory.

But what struck me most about Klein’s incisive piece was not these observations, accurate and unconventional as they were. I have made them myself on this blog.

What struck me most was his confession that “I watched Fox . . . for much of election night.”

I wish I could do that. For me watching Fox is like drinking spoiled milk mixed with horse shit while listening to fingernails screeching on a blackboard. I can’t stand the bullying tone, the over-the-top smugness, the utter ignorance, and the endlessly repeated conventional lies. I can’t stand to think that my countrymen actually support, for profit, an institution whose nearest counterpart is the Soviet organ Pravda in the USSR’s heyday.

Fox’ “fair and balanced” slogan even mimics Pravda’s name, which means “truth” in Russian. What real journalists tout the alleged verity of their product in their journal’s name or slogan? The good ones do the best they can to reflect reality and let readers judge.

But I digress. Klein, of course, is right in watching Fox. Reality includes not just the logical and sublime, but also the bad, the ugly and the vile.

Like it or not, the American right-wing propaganda machine, of which Fox is the linchpin, is part of our society. And so it bears watching. Klein took favorable note of Fox’ early capitulation to the reality of the election results, despite Karl Roves’ protests.

In terms of dead and wounded, Gettysburg was one of the bloodiest battles in which Americans have ever fought. But as Lincoln recognized in his famous short speech, it was also the turning point of our Civil War.

And so it is today. The ugly, hard-fought 2012 election was the decisive ideological battle against the South’s century-long attempt to retake the nation peacefully.

Sometimes it may not seem so. The zombie still walks and talks behind Mitch McConnell’s smug smile.

But the zombie is now lifeless. The living inhabit a multi-racial, multipolar, modern world. The old plantation life of soft summer evenings with oppressed people singing soulfully in the deep background is truly gone with the wind.

From our new world, democratic people of all colors, races and cultures will take our noisy civilization to the stars—if we don’t kill ourselves with nuclear fire or climate change first. The South’s traditional culture will take no part in that advance; higher forms of human civilization will replace it, slowly and inexorably, as Cro-Magnons did the Neanderthals.

P.S. Secession. And if the South really wants to secede, this time we should let it, including Texas and any other fellow travelers. Just let them leave their nukes at the door, which they had no hand in developing. And let them pay their fair share of our national debt, plus all arrears for net federal receipts over taxes paid.



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