Ross Douthat’s Flawed Red State-Blue State Model
I like Ross Douthat, the New York Times’s newest regular columnist, but the case he presents today on economic conditions in blue states and red states is misleading. Typical of the piece are claims like these:
Meanwhile, California, long a paradise for regulators and public-sector unions, has become a fiscal disaster area. And it isn’t the only dark blue basket case. Eight states had unemployment over 11 percent in June; seven went for Barack Obama last November.
This is true — states which voted for Barack Obama have higher unemployment rates than those that don’t. In fact, the difference is statistically significant: Obama states have an average of 9.3 percent of their population unemployed at the moment, versus 7.9 percent for McCain states.
The problem is that Douthat is confusing cause and effect. Those states may very well have voted for Barack Obama because they had higher unemployment. Obama blew out McCain in high-unemployment states like Michigan, Oregon and Nevada — states which are normally much more competitive. He won, to much surprise, Indiana and North Carolina, two states with unemployment rates well above the national norms. Indeed, although the Obama states have higher unemployment now, they also did so by a statistically significant margin in November, when Obama was elected.
And yeah, it’s relatively easy to avoid budget gaps if you’re not concerned about the people who fall through those gaps:
- Paul Krugman points out that “Texas is not the only red state. Why not look at South Carolina, where taxes are almost as low as they are in Texas, but where the unemployment rate is 12.1%? Or Tennessee, which has some of the lowest taxes in the nation, and 11% unemployment?”
- Blue Texan: “[T]he only reason Texas isn’t facing a budget deficit is because Obama’s stimulus bill bailed us out.“
- David Dayen seconds Steve Benen: “Texas is the worst state in America for the uninsured and the second-worst state for poverty rates. To conservatives who judge the progress of a state by the budgetary balance sheet and not the prosperity of the citizenry, I’m sure they are a model citizen.”