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« Trivia Tidbit Of The Day: Part 425 -- Future Reapportionment Favors Republicans. | WILLisms.com | Wednesday Caption Contest: Part 96 »

Trivia Tidbit Of The Day: Part 426 -- Lower Taxes & Lower Spending = Greater Poverty Reduction.

High Taxes & High Spending Correlates With More Poverty-

There is a common media motif regarding the religious right today. Members of the religious right are typically portrayed in the establishment media as well-intentioned but ultimately out of touch with the mainstream of society, counterproductive to their own aims, and-- this is the big one-- corrupt/hypocritical.

Well, what about the religious left? And the not-so-religious left?

The religious left (a coalition of "Bible-thumping liberals, Pious peaceniks, Ethnic churchgoers, Conflicted Catholics, and Religious feminists") is not an insignificant force today:

... the ones who cared most about economics preferred Kerry, a sign of how the Democrats could win over more of them. Finally, there are the liberal evangelicals, who make up about 3 percent of the electorate and tend to vote Democratic. They're especially concerned with poverty and the environment.
So, religious left folks care deeply about things like "economics" and "poverty." Surely, you've known people like this. They are often some of the more preachy and overly involved people you'll encounter at your friendly neighborhood church. They often ooze smugness and moral superiority, making claims like, "Bush is not very Christ-like," and proudly declaring to anyone who will listen that they are liberals, because Christ was a liberal. They complain incessantly about "budget cuts" and "inequality."

More than Pat Robertson or any other major figure on the religious right, these folks want to compel everyone in America (not to mention, the world), via the United States government, to fall in line with their left-wing philosophy. Not satisfied with their own tithing, volunteerism, or mission work (if they even do any of these), they want to force everyone to pay higher taxes to fund government programs intended to reduce poverty. This left-wing evangelism is far more imperious and dogmatic than the kinds of causes typically associated with the religious right.

As Grover Norquist often points out, most of the folks on the religious right are not trying to impose anything on anyone, they just want to be left alone.

When members of the religious left, inspired by their faith in Christ, join forces with members of the not-so-religious left, inspired by their faith in Marx et al., the result is as profound as any old fashioned spiritual revival. Federal programs! Social justice! Fairer taxes! Peace and harmony! The environment! Gay marriage! Government housing! Welfare! Moral superiority!

While faith in government programs may be well-intentioned, it is also woefully misguided. Lucky for us, we happen to have 50 laboratories where we can judge the effectiveness of policies.

Byron Schlomach of the Texas Public Policy Foundation and Matthew Ladner of the Goldwater Institute recently published what ought to be considered a very important study on taxes, spending, and poverty. Indeed, every legislator in the country ought to read the results (.pdf):

...big spending governments did a terrible job of reducing poverty during the 1990-2000 period. The figure compares average poverty rates in the 10 states spending the most money per capita (Alaska, California, Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wyoming) to the 10 states spending the least per capita (Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, South Dakota, Tennessee and Texas).

So, government spending does not necessarily mean poverty reduction. In fact, it may have led to increased poverty in the 1990s, while lower spending led to fantastic poverty reductions.

Meanwhile, high tax states versus low tax states showed the same trends (.pdf):

Alabama, Colorado, Florida, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia spent the least per capita (taxes per 1000 of income). Alaska, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Minnesota, New Mexico, New Jersey, New York, Vermont, and Wisconsin spent the most.

Also, and more specifically, child poverty showed similar trends. Low tax, low spending states saw poverty rates decline far more rapidly than high tax, high spending states.

Finally, this somewhat anecdotal graphic was particularly illuminating, given that Colorado lived under the allegedly draconian TABOR spending restrictions in the 1990s (.pdf):


TABOR was supposed to have gutted government services and left people vulnerable to the unforgiving whims of a global economy, driving businesses and people out of the state, while California's progressive and enlightened programs were going to reduce inequality and serve as policy examples for the rest of the slow-to-adapt country.

Wrong. High taxes and high spending just meant lower corporate revenue growth, lower personal income growth, and fewer businesses/families relocating to California from other states.

There are sweeping implications for the Federal Government in this study. We can and should draw lessons for public policy at the national level from the state policy laboratories.

There is also a clear moral case, here. If poverty reduction is the goal, why not try out results-oriented policy, rather than feel-good policy? If one of the ultimate conclusions of higher taxes and higher government spending is greater poverty, don't we have a moral obligation to keep taxes and spending low? If other results of high taxes and high spending include a weaker overall economy, slower job growth, fewer medical, technological, and scientific breakthroughs, and a lower standard of living for future generations, aren't those policies inherently immoral?

For more great facts and figures, and some historical context, read the entire study (.pdf), "Government Growth or Poverty Reduction? Lessons From The States." Again, this ought to be required reading for any legislator.

Moreover, whether it is religious faith, ideological faith, or both, behind the slow-but-sure drive toward socialism (on the road to serfdom), it is America's moral and economic imperative to oppose higher taxes and larger government. There is absolutely no incompatibility between Christian faith and support for free enterprise; indeed, in terms of both aims and results, the two are perfectly complementary, which is probably why such an overwhelming majority of Christian voters consider themselves to be part of the center-right "Leave Us Alone Coalition."


Previous Trivia Tidbit: Reapportionment Will Benefit Republicans.

Posted by Will Franklin · 16 March 2007 05:38 PM


I would venture to say Government spending almost certainly means poverty...

Posted by: zsa zsa at March 20, 2007 06:25 PM

As an evangelical who used to be a socialist, I find this topic fascinating and have blogged on it many times.

With some of the religious left, it is simply a function of superficial thinking. They think "Jesus loved the poor. We should love the poor. Let's do what sounds most sympathetic." Complexity and consequences are too difficult, even for learned people, because it involves not only learning factual information, but deconstructing your assumptions.

For others, however, the issue is darker. Despite their protestations, liberalism is their religion, which they cover in Christian language. They seldom know this about themselves, but understanding what their real faith is is a better predictor of their actions.

Posted by: Assistant Village Idiot at March 20, 2007 07:33 PM

As usual, figures taken in a vacuum don't really tell you much. If I presented something like this to explain a business estimate, I would be cut to shreds. The numbers presented are no more meaningful than graphing poverty rates vs days of the year under 30 or over 90 degrees F.

How about a population migration from lesser paying states to higher paying states, with no overall net change in poverty increase or decrease. How about an overabundance of illegal immigrants who raise certain states out of proportion to other areas regardless of what they pay or tax (remember many of these don't give a hoot about income or property taxes since they don't pay them). How about rural vs urban dominated states. How about payouts as a percent of a state's GDP. There are lots and lots of indicators which could impact the real effect of poverty indicators. Breaking it down to two isolated indicators is just pure BS.

And I'm not one of the liberal bleeding heart lefties, just a guy that's tired of seeing bullsh*t charts which are agenda driven, grossly incomplete, and probably misleading. If someone wants to make a point with a good study, make an airtight point, not BS.

Posted by: sammy small at March 20, 2007 08:09 PM

It is one thing to love the poor and quite another to hold them captive in Government programs. Whe I think of families for GENERATIONS have been on fed assisted programs??? Well, it is very sad. Assisting someone in need and helping them is wonderful & good! BUT ultimately it leaves so many depending upon the American tax payer!

Posted by: zsa zsa at March 20, 2007 08:10 PM

I am not super religious of preachy, so take it for what it is worth:

If this guy Jesus believed government was the answer and that a good government run by Christian values could save mankind, he would have been sent to be a President or a Pope or a... Instead he was a King of Kings who wore a crown of thorns.

He showed us that government is not the answer. Government corrupts and the most corrupt of all were those that were allegedly doing the work of God, but in truth were exploiting the temple to change money. Government has never helped anyone. Taxpayers and citizens have, but government's existence often does more to hinder citizens from helping their fellow man than to help them do it.

Christ's message was about being a good Samaritan yourself, not about forcing others to do it. Good Christians should live their lives according to their own values. We should not force others to live according to our values but rather ensure that all men are free to live and worship according to their own conscience. And if charity and love for your fellow man is forced by government, how Christian is that? Especially when that charity is taken by force from someone else.

Posted by: Justin B at March 21, 2007 02:03 AM

Justin...You hit the bulls eye. Now if you could convince the Dems?

Posted by: zsa zsa at March 21, 2007 05:17 AM

As usual, figures taken in a vacuum don't really tell you much.

True enough, but I'm not sure what the big problem here is. The figures show either one of two things: 1) Increased spending does not necessarily lead to a reduction in poverty or 2) States with the most poverty spend more on poverty because, well, they have more of it.

Interpretation 2 is somewhat unlikely since it's doubtful that such states recently began spending as much on poverty as they currently do.

However, to address your concerns:

How about a population migration from lesser paying states to higher paying states

The population migration is generally in the opposite direction (a point Will has surely made here before). See http://www.census.gov/prod/2006pubs/p25-1135.pdf

How about an overabundance of illegal immigrants

Probably not a factor: the states with the most illegal immigration are California, Texas, Arizona, Florida, New York, Illinois, and Virginia (see http://images.businessweek.com/ss/05/07/immigration_map/index_01.htm). Several of those are among the lowest paying states and a couple are among the highest. I'm not sure I see much of a correlation here.

How about rural vs urban dominated states

The states within both the high and low categories are pretty diverse. Again, I don't think there is much of a correlation here.

Posted by: Jason at March 21, 2007 09:59 AM

The question really becomes the role of government and the results government and citizens expect versus what they get. For instance:

--Citizens want to increase tax revenue. They raise tax rates which slows the economy and therefore lowers tax revenue. When we evaluate the success or failure of the tax increase, it is clearly a failure.

--Citizens want to increase taxes on the rich to fund programs to stop poverty. The business climate slows and wages stagnate, putting more people in poverty. Do we evaluate the plan as a success or failure?

The fact is that whatever the policies in place or the excuses made, the goal of anti-poverty programs and their spending is to reduce poverty. And in states that spend the most on poverty relief are not getting results. This is probably not related just to the anti-poverty programs, but to their overall business and economic climate. If you are spending money on programs, you are taxing citizens and businesses. The higher taxes and higher spending states are driving their industry towards the lower tax and lower spending states. There are fewer and fewer jobs and that does more to increase poverty than antipoverty programs can ever correct.

So again, if your goal is to decrease poverty do you do it by:

A. Taxing companies and spending massive funds on anti-poverty programs
B. Create a business climate that encourages growth, thereby increasing wages and pulling people out of poverty by them having better and more jobs

Ultimately, we see which works and which doesn't and that is the only objective measure that matters. Some policies that are unrelated have a major impact on "poverty". Things like corporate tax rates and state income tax rates. Will is simply pointing out that these states that claim to want to end poverty are not getting near the results of those that are doing the things that will end poverty like ensuring jobs and a good growth climate.

Posted by: Justin B at March 21, 2007 02:18 PM

One theme I've been coming back to over and over is that there is no morality when the goverment enforces morality. Using the tax law to enforce a specific charity, is not the same thing as individuals giving to charity.

As for the economics, I'm not really surprised. The rising tide lifts all boats. The states spending the most, probably tax the most and create other factors that inhibit the business environment, this will "pull the tub's plug" and lower the waterline everywhere. The people at the margins of poverty are likely to be the ones hardest hit for a variety of factors.

Posted by: Brendan at March 22, 2007 08:28 AM

I may not agree with you all the time (though I basically do here), but I still appreciate that you can discuss Christian religion and politics at the same time, without being condescending to either. Thanks.

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