State Deductions are Unfair!

So I flipped my car radio to the Michael Medved show the other day and managed to catch him between commercials for performance enhancement, income tax settlement, incredible investment opportunities, and patriotic booze. As conservative talk show hosts go, Michael is far more objective and fair-minded than the vile blowhards that dominate right-wing talk. In fact, he typically sounds amazingly reasonable, fair-minded, and well-informed. Well, at least until you shake yourself out of the thrall of his sincere, heart-felt admonitions and seemingly irrefutable logic.

Take for example the other day. He was going on about the Republican plan to end federal deductions for state and local taxes and why removing this deduction actually corrects a terrible unfairness. He argued that it is “obviously unfair” that this deduction in effect forces fiscally responsible Red states to subsidize the big tax-and-spend programs of those liberal Blue states. With great rhetorical fervor he asked his audience, how is that fair that some [Blue] states get to enjoy these deductions while some [Red] states do not?

I admit that the “logic” of his impassioned appeal to fairness did sway me for a while. Then I mentally bonked myself on the head when I realized that of course his argument is completely fallacious.

What Michael did there was to employ a rhetorical and logical trick that we must all be alert for when hearing such arguments. Knowingly or unknowingly, he used the persuasive tactic of getting the other party to accept a framing of the issue in relative isolation without considering the full picture.

In this case, many of these “responsible” Red states can only get away with charging little or no state tax because they receive so much federal assistance. These Red states have the very worst standards of living, rates of poverty, and require far more humanitarian assistance from the federal government. On net, these “fiscally responsible” Red states are the takers. Who are the largest givers? A disproportionate amount comes from those terrible tax-and-spend Blue states.

When you consider all forms of spending and taxation, there is no evidence that there is any benefit to living in a state with no income tax  (see here), but the article points out that there are tremendous benefits to living in a high tax state, particularly if you are poor. And I would argue that how a state treats its poor should be seen as a good thing to all people of conscious, particularly Christians. How we treat the least among us, not merely through charity but through government policy and yes redistribution, should be seen as the greatest measure of the character of a people and their state.


Yet Republicans, largely dominated by Evangelical Christians in states like Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, North Carolina, and Texas, offer the fewest services to their people while devouring disproportionate federal aid. And all the while they complain about those liberal states like New York and California who not only take better care of their own people, but send their dollars to the poor victims of their own fiscally-heartless Red states.

The Red states are takers and the Blue states are givers in our nation. This is not a particularly contestable analysis. It has been shown innumerable times, including the analysis and conclusion presented in “Which States are Givers and Which are Takers” published in The Atlantic (see here).

[W]ho really benefits from government spending? If you listen to Rush Limbaugh, you might think it was those blue states, packed with damn hippie socialist liberals, sipping their lattes and providing free abortions for bored, horny teenagers. …

As it turns out, it is red states that are overwhelmingly the Welfare Queen States. Yes, that’s right. Red States—the ones governed by folks who think government is too big and spending needs to be cut—are a net drain on the economy, taking in more federal spending than they pay out in federal taxes. They talk a good game, but stick Blue States with the bill.

So, returning to the rant by Michael Medved, while in isolation it may seem unfair that Blue states generally get a tax benefit not available to some Red states, it is actually quite fair if you look at the entire cash flow picture. Blue states not only provide their own residents a higher quality of life, they are net givers to Red states who impoverish and abandon their populations while consuming vast federal support to provide the essential health and social services that those states refuse to offer.

If anything, when you look at the full picture, it is even more unfair that Blue states not only have to take care of their own residents but also the residents of your callous Red states. Perhaps, Michael, if you feel so strongly that Blue states should stop receiving this state tax deduction, you must likewise then feel just as strongly that no money should flow from Blue states into Red ones to provide basic services for their desperate and hurting people. In accordance with your ethical logic, it seems unfair that inland states should be forced to send any of their money, through FEMA, to those irresponsible southern states that build homes continually ravaged by hurricanes.

Fortunately, liberals are not this petty and selfish. They understand that it takes a village and that the health and well-being of each of us is best served by caring about the health and well-being of all of us. Liberals in Blue states do not actually complain about helping under-served populations in your Red states, even as you complain about the terrible unfairness of tax deductions that help allow Blue states to help you.

Don’t let conservatives focus you on the “obvious common sense” bits of truth that distract you from the big truth. Learn to watch for and recognize this subtle but detectable form of deceit and manipulation.


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