Red State Socialism
by Lynn Smith
Not much is capable of rendering me speechless, but watching middle-class voters get deceived by right-wing “populists”, works every time. Economic proposals that would benefit a broad swath of Americans are routinely decried as “socialist” by GOP leadership, and they shamelessly stoke division with threats of “income redistribution”. This asymmetric warfare allows them to delegitimize honest conversations around our growing income inequality and preempt policy proposals that might restore some economic fairness. And, all the while, they’re laughing their way to the bank…or more accurately put…depositing our tax dollars into their own state’s coffers.
Although he has lots of competition within the GOP, hats off to Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky for being the biggest hypocrite of all. While hanging a socialist label on every program that expands childcare or broadens Medicare coverage, he never discloses that his own state receives, per person, $14,153 more in federal revenue than they pay in. Referred to as a state’s balance of tax payments, this calculation measures the difference between a state’s
contributions to the federal coffers, and how much they get back in federal benefits. But, back to Kentucky…in 2019 they received $63 billion more in aid from the federal government than its citizens paid in income taxes, and it wasn’t an aberrant year.
Evidently, these are the rules from the GOP playbook: As long as federal tax revenues go back to Republican-controlled states in amounts that are disproportionate to what they paid in, those payments won’t be characterized as income redistribution, or welfare, or socialism. But, when Democrats begin discussions about fortifying social safety nets for the middle-class, or the retired, or our children, the term socialist will be quickly employed. This is, of course, both dishonest and divisive.
But red-state socialism isn’t unique to Kentucky or Senator Paul. Eight of the ten states most dependent on aid from the federal government are Republican-controlled red states. They include West Virginia, Mississippi, Alaska, Montana, Kentucky, Alabama, Arizona and Louisiana. Even a huge and wealthy red state like Texas gets back more than they send to the federal coffers, but that doesn’t stop Ted Cruz from blathering on about socialism. Interestingly, in “Don’t Tread on Me” Montana, they didn’t object to the feds sending back $2.25 for every dollar their state paid in taxes during 2021.
Nine states routinely send the federal government more than they receive in federal benefits, and seven of them are Democratic blue states. Chronically labeled by right-wing media as bastions of socialism, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Illinois, and Minnesota always end up drawing the short end of the federal payment stick, and are perennial “donor” states. The math becomes fairly clear: the federal income tax and Social Security taxes collected from the blue states in the Northeast and Midwest subsidize the red states, particularly those states in the Southeast that have neglected to make investments in their own populations. New York gets back 86 cents back for every $1 it sends to the federal government while Kentucky receives $2.35, or almost 300% more. But, have you ever heard Kentucky Senator Paul called a socialist? And if Republicans were truly against wealth redistribution, wouldn’t they be advocating for the return of those excess tax payments to donor states like New York?
Please don’t misunderstand my message. I believe that our tax dollars should be employed to promote the “common good” across the entirety of our great nation. What I am railing against is the intentional distortion of facts and the chronic use of divisive language to prevent field-leveling policy changes that would enhance the quality of life for a majority of Americans.
Make no mistake about it…our innovative country is firmly grounded in capitalism…which is the only economic structure that rewards private ownership of both property and production. We are not now, nor have we ever been, a socialist nation. But, our public policy disproportionately rewards those at the very top of our economic hierarchy, and that must change in order for us to emerge from this age of rage.
Our economy is robust and resilient, and the current level of inflation is testimony to that fact. So, I’d argue that what Americans are now witnessing is not an economic crisis with social consequences, but rather a social crisis with potential economic consequences. Inaccurate and inflammatory language, when employed by our political leaders, only enhances our distrust and our divisions, and greatly diminishes our ability to coalesce around mutually beneficial solutions.
Maybe that’s the point.