money should flow from New York to Florida

This is just a salvo in the current debate about whether the feds should send money to states:

“It’s not fair to the taxpayers of Florida. We sit here, we live within our means, and then New York, Illinois, California and other states don’t. And we’re supposed to go bail them out? That’s not right,” GOP Sen. Rick Scott tells poolers of sending more money to states— Burgess Everett (@burgessev) April 27, 2020

The Rockefeller Institute calculates the net flow of money from state to state on a per capita basis. Note that net money flows from New York and Illinois (although not actually from California) toward Sen. Scott’s Florida (h/t Jonathan Cohn).

But this is as it should be. The progressive position should be that people in the band of states from Pennsylvania to Arizona deserve support from states like New York, Massachusetts, and New Jersey. It is not a matter of noblesse oblige or the kindness of Yankees. Wealth is concentrated in places like Manhattan and Boston. These places are home to many rich individuals and concentrations of organized capital. Progressives believe that concentrated capital is problematic. At a minimum, it distorts power. At the worst, it is exploitative, expanding at the expense of people in Alabama or New Mexico. People in those states have a right to a larger share of the national wealth.

It’s OK to make fun of conservative politicians from recipient states who won’t acknowledge that they benefit from federal redistribution.

It’s important to think about why people in recipient states often vote against redistribution while people from supplier states may vote for it.

There is also a troubling paradox that the political party that is at least mildly more favorable to redistribution draws so much of its votes from states that lose out from redistribution. From William Jennings Bryan to Lyndon Baines Johnson, the states that wanted a strong federal role in the economy were net recipients of federal aid, and they viewed Wall Street as their enemy. Now the Senate Democratic Leader, the nation’s most prominent Democratic governor, and the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee all directly represent Wall Street.

These are paradoxes and conundrums, but the best response is not to object to the interstate flow of money, to mock Red State politicians for mischaracterizing it, or to ask people in poorer states to be more grateful for the help they get from the north. The right response is to reinforce public support for the social contract that rightly sends money from Massachusetts to Mississippi.

See also does the Left care about Alabama?; white working class alienation from government; an expert class and the grassroots; defining equity and equality.

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About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.