Tuesday, May 07, 2002

Blue State Blues

Normally I find the New York Times' Paul Krugman insufferable, but his column today makes a useful point. He disputes the common idea that the people who live in rural states are superior to urban residents when it comes to honesty, lawfulness, "family values," etc. Among other things, he disputes the American farmer's reputation for self-reliance by pointing out the massive subsidies pumped into rural America through agricultural subsidies:

"Remember how hard New York's elected representatives had to fight to get $20 billion in aid for the stricken city — aid that had already been promised? Well, recently Congress agreed to give farmers $180 billion in subsidies over the next decade. By the way, the population of New York City is about twice as large as America's total farm population.


"But what's really outrageous is the claim that the heartland is self-reliant. That grotesque farm bill, by itself, should put an end to all such assertions; but it only adds to the immense subsidies the heartland already receives from the rest of the country. As a group, red [majority pro-Bush] states pay considerably less in taxes than the federal government spends within their borders; blue [majority pro-Gore] states pay considerably more. Over all, blue America subsidizes red America to the tune of $90 billion or so each year."

Of course, being Krugman, he has to use his analysis to bash the President by characterizing all Bush states as rural welfare cases and all Gore states as full of productive urbanites, but his point is still valid. The age of the stalwart yeoman, the truly independent American farmer, died at least by the time of the New Deal, if not before. The state of "The Heartland," however you might define it, has no more right to consider itself the Real America as does Krugman's New Jersey or any other state.

Some of this prejudice comes from the idea contained in Thomas Jefferson's famous quotation: "The mobs of great cities add just so much to the support of pure government, as sores do to the strength of the human body" (Notes on the State of Virginia, 1787). And it hardly started with Jefferson. Cities have always been a disturbing influence, regarded as the incubators of strange, new ideas. As Virginia Postrel might say, cities are for Dynamists and rural areas are for Stasists. It's not surprising which of the two produces the more wealth and which limps by on decades-old subsidies.

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