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Why Small Government States get more Pork

January 17, 2013

Despite their small government rhetoric and values, red states get far more federal dollars per tax dollar paid than blue states, even controlling for income, military bases, and education spending. Bloomberg seems to blame more evil politicians in the red states or some nonsense about it’s FDR’s fault. I don’t think the writer of the article had a good theory of why it was happening, so just wrote a bunch of fluff at the end.

States/Regions Receiving Federal Spending Per Dollar of Federal Taxes Paid:
1. D.C. ($6.17) – This is because of the Smithsonian and federal agency headquarters and whatnot.
2. North Dakota ($2.03)
3. New Mexico ($1.89)
4. Mississippi ($1.84)
5. Alaska ($1.82)
6. West Virginia ($1.74)
7. Montana ($1.64)
8. Alabama ($1.61)
9. South Dakota ($1.59)
10. Arkansas ($1.53)

States Receiving Least in Federal Spending Per Dollar of Federal Taxes Paid:
1. New Jersey ($0.62)
2. Connecticut ($0.64)
3. New Hampshire ($0.68)
4. Nevada ($0.73)
5. Illinois ($0.77)
6. Minnesota ($0.77)
7. Colorado ($0.79)
8. Massachusetts ($0.79)
9. California ($0.81)
10. New York ($0.81)

Buying Votes
To me the answer seems simple, once you know a bit of public choice. Put yourself in the shoes of a congressperson sponsoring a bill. If the bill is really good, you’ll be able to get a majority to vote for it without offering anyone any pork. But what if the bill is only mediocre? Who is the most likely to oppose it? Probably the small government guys in North Dakota. The big government senator from New Jersey will vote for nearly any bill that increases the size of government no matter how terrible, so you don’t need to give that guy any pork. The congresspeople on the small government side won’t play ball unless they get some good perks, because, *not in spite of*, their small government beliefs.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. January 17, 2013 4:22 pm

    Interesting analysis! I read an interesting article (that I’ve since lost) that talked about the recent inability of Boehner to corral his caucus comes from the Tea Party / Republicans’s increasing resistance to pork-barrel spending.

    • January 17, 2013 4:49 pm

      Yeah, that’s not surprising. Contrary to what a lot of people think, pork isn’t damaging because of the direct expenditures, which are usually tiny. Pork is damaging because it allows politicians to pass crappy bills by paying off one’s ideological opponents rather than actually finding a compromise everyone agrees on. Of course, I’m generally against “getting things done”. The getting things done crowd loves pork.

  2. January 17, 2013 9:59 pm

    I’ve heard these stats before and figured there had to be more to it than “small-gov red states are hypocrites” but I’ve never really looked into it. Your theory is interesting, though I’m not sure I’m convinced. What % of federal spending is pork? If it’s tiny as you say in a comment and as I also suspect, can pork alone explain the discrepancy?

    My hypothesis is that it’s a statistical fluke based on some uninteresting natural effects of government policy thanks to demographics or geography or something like that (I think I saw a theory once about red highway spending to link the blue coast states, but I’m not sure that’s big enough, either)

    • January 18, 2013 11:34 am

      It’s an awfully big diference, and saying “oh, it’s Medicaid” or whatnot just begs the question. Why do highway, Medicaid, military, etc spending programs favor small government states so much? I still think political favor buying is a big part of it, even if the difference isn’t fully accounted for by explicit pork spending.

  3. January 18, 2013 11:21 am

    Rural states are better places to big military installations. I wonder how much of the difference is military spending.

    • January 18, 2013 11:32 am

      According to the Bloomberg article, the difference persists even once you account for military spending. I should look into how much of the difference that accounts for tho.

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