The New York Timespublisheda widely discussed articleupdating an argument that progressive bloggers noticed a very long time ago. It's now well-understood that blue states generally export money to the federal government; and red states generally import it.
Talking Points Memo published a great map showing exactly how this redistribution works:
Progressives believe in the redistribution of wealth, so we're not usually too upset by this state of affairs. That’s what it means to be one country. E pluribus unum, and all that. We’re happy to help, because we think we’ve got a stake in making sure kids in rural Alabama get educations and seniors in Arizona get healthcare. What’s good for them is good for all of us. We also like to think they’d help us out if our positions were reversed. It’s an investment in making America stronger, and we feel fine about that.
But maybe it's time to admit that we're being played for chumps, and that there are people in the rest of the country who are taking way too much advantage of our good nature. After all: it's now a stone fact that the blue states and cities are the country's real wealth creators. That's why we pay more taxes, and are able to send that money to the red states in the first place. We're working our butts off, being economically productive, going to college, raising good kids, supporting reality-based schools, keeping our marriages together, tending to our busy and diverse cities, and generally Playing By The Rules. And the fates have smiled on us in rough proportion to the degree that we’ve invested in our own common good.
So we've got every right to get good and angry about the fact that, by and large, the people who are getting our money are so damned ungrateful -- not to mention so ridiculously eager to spend it on stuff we don't approve of. We didn't ship them our hard-earned tax dollars to see them squandered on worse-than-useless abstinence-only education, textbooks that teach creationism, crisis-pregnancy misinformation centers, subsidies for GMO crops and oil companies, and so on. And we sure as hell didn't expect to be rewarded for our productivity and generosity with a rising tide of spittle-flecked insanity about how we’re just a bunch of immoral, godless, drug-soaked, sex-crazed, evil America-hating traitors who can’t wait to hand the country over to the Islamists and the Communists.
Ironically, the conservative movement's favorite philosopher had some very insightful things to say about this exact situation. Ayn Rand's novels divided the world into two groups. On one hand, she lionized "producers" -- noble, intelligent Übermenschen whose faith in their own ideas and willingness to take risks to achieve their dreams drives everything else in society. And she called out the evil of "parasites," the dull, unimaginative masses who attach themselves to producers and drain away their resources and thwart their dreams.
Conservatives love this story. They're eager to claim the gleaming mantle of the producers, insisting loudly that their tax money is going to support people (mostly in blue states and cities, it's darkly implied) who won't or can't work as hard as they do. If you want to arouse their class and race resentments, there are few narratives that can get them rolling like this producers-versus-parasites tale.
But the NYT story and that map up there prove beyond arguing that the conservative interpretation of events is 100 percent, 180-degrees, flat-out wrong. America's real producer class is overwhelmingly concentrated in the blue cities and states -- the regions full of smart, talented people who've harnessed technology and intellect to money, and made these regions the best, most forward-looking places in the country to live.
And the real parasites are centered in red states (the only exceptions being states with huge resource reserves, like Alaska and Texas) -- the unimaginative, exhausted places that have clung to a fading past, rejected science, substituted superstition for sense, and refused to invest in their own futures. It's not unfair to say that those regions are simply feasting off the sweat of our ennobling labor, and expecting us to continue supporting them as they go about their wealth-destroying ways.
And we producers have had enough.
Progressives Go Galt!
If you're a conservative who thinks Ayn Rand called it true with this producers/parasites thing, then by all means: let's go there. All the way there — and then some. But fair warning is in order: you may not like where we end up.
By way of a modest proposal, I hereby declare the birth of a new Progressive Objectivism — a frankly producerist personal-responsibility crusade aimed at getting these whiny red leeches off our collective blue hide. If they think they can get by without us, let’s not stand in their way. What these people need from us, at minimum, is some tough talk — the kind of stern, grown-up verbal whoop-ass the conservatives wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to unload on us if the roles were reversed.
The time has come for blue America to go Galt. Our farewell rant — long and epic, as Rand's turgid writing style would have required — might sound a bit like this:
First off, dear Red Staters: If your town’s economy depends on a nearby dam, canal, harbor, airport, military base, interstate highway, national park or monument, or prison, just STFU. Because you are, in every way possible, a parasite, living off something the rest of us paid to build.
Second: If you are a homeowner who takes a mortgage interest deduction — which is how the rest of us subsidize your house, and with it your status in the middle-class — we don’t want to hear another word from you about how you made it all on your own. And that goes for those of you who got your education via the GI Bill, or took out an SBA loan, or went to well-funded public schools back when such things existed. You are what you are because we believed in you, and invested in you. And we’re deeply insulted that you refuse to even acknowledge that fact.
Third: Don't come crawling to us to support those kids you couldn't afford to have, but refused to allow contraception or abortions or actual fact-based sex education to prevent. It's just that simple. Our blue-state babies are better off in every way that matters because we plan our families. A failure to plan on your part does not create an obligation on ours. Your policies force women to have kids, even when they're patently not ready to have them. Now (as you’re so fond of telling women who find themselves unhappily pregnant), you get to live with the consequences of those choices.
Fourth: Don't ask us to pay to educate your kids if you're not willing to have us teach them what we know about the world. We believe in free, comprehensive, rigorous and reality-based public education because it’s done more than any other government service to make us rich, powerful and successful; and we want the same for you.
We realize some of you aren't too keen on public schools. It's great that you want to take on more personal responsibility for educating your own kids. Just be warned: if you don't teach them real science and real history — including evolution, climate change and the actual contents of the US Constitution — we're probably not going to hire them. So we hope you're also ready to take responsibility for that, too, which will probably mean supporting your grown kids in your basement until you die.
Fifth: Between federal water reclamation projects and farm subsidies, we are paying you zillions of dollars to grow stuff we'd actually rather not eat. Don’t look now, but those of us in blue cities and states are moving away from your petrochemical-saturated GMO-bred CAFO-grown industrial “food” products as fast as we possibly can. There aren’t enough organic and community-supported farms to feed all of us yet — but we have taken responsibility for this, and are working hard on the problem. You can either get on this train, or holler at it while it flattens you. What you cannot do is yell at us because we don’t want to eat what you choose to grow.
Notice, too, that the only reason we’re having to subsidize you in the first place is that the all-holy free market does not bless you with profits on this crap. In your own book, that makes you a capital-L Loser. In ours, we’ll settle for “parasite.”
Sixth: We are so over your bigotry. Again: we know from our own long experience that including women, gays and minorities makes us not only culturally richer; it also makes us more economically productive as well. And the recent economic meltdown has shown us that monocultures run exclusively by rich white men tend to stagnate into breeding pools for all kinds of social and financial parasites, who then come forward to prey on those least able to resist -- like you.
Diversity isn’t just an idealistic fetish for us: we do it because we think it makes us richer on every front that matters. If “parasite” is just another word for “people who willfully make bad choices that keep them poor and ignorant,” then your prejudices by definition make you parasites. And we are not, therefore, obliged to deal with you.
And finally: If you want to pretend global warming isn't happening, you do not get to come whining to us when you get hit with droughts or floods. We're not going to send FEMA to bail you out. We're not going to build canals to give you our water. We're not going to fund your levees. If you're so sure God will provide, go ask him to keep your reservoirs full and your cities dry. Because we resign.
But will we come back?
Yep. It all sounds really ugly. But that’s the point of going Galt: it’s a big fat tantrum designed to prove just how important you are in the grand scheme of things. (The tactic is also not unfamiliar to any mother who’s gone on a protracted housekeeping strike to gain appreciation from an uncooperative family.) If others have to suffer hardship to learn the lesson — well, that’ll teach 'em. The emotionally satisfying goal is to get the parasites to come back, begging on their knees for your vital help and resources. They know now, in a way they didn't before, that they cannot survive without you.
So: if that fantasy moment were to come, what would it take to convince us Progressive Objectivists to emerge once again from our cool blue producerist enclave, and take responsibility for the chastened masses once again? We have just five simple demands:
1. Stop taking more money from the federal government pot than you put into it. If you believe in paying your own freight, then do it. If you can’t, that’s fine -- we'll go back to helping you out -- but you have to let go of that producerist superiority crap, because you’re simply not entitled to it.
2. Admit that we were right. Admit that nobody in America ever makes it on their own, and that we are all in this together, and that there’s such a thing as the common wealth and the common good. Admit that regulation is necessary to keep the unprincipled strong from preying on the weak. Admit that there has never in history ever been any such thing as a free market: markets are created by governments, and need to be overseen by them. And finally: admit that your conservative leaders got us into this economic mess, and don’t know squat about how to get us out of it.
3. Join the reality-based world. Accept that America’s prosperity utterly depends on how well-educated its kids are, especially on topics like science and history. Accept that evolution happened, and that climate change is happening now. Embrace nuance. Learn something about how to assess evidence and think rationally, without a pre-determined conclusion. Remember that God only helps those who've gained the real-world skills to help themselves.
4. Admit that we love our country every bit as much as you do — and that, given our much greater success at creating strong families, productive 21st-century industries and excellent places to live, we might actually know more than you do about how to make it work better in the future.
5. Last but by no means least: Knock off the hate-mongering, threats and name-calling. Your heroine, Ms. Rand, predicted rightly that parasites invariably despise the producers they feed on; you should be embarrassed that your own behavior bears her out so clearly. And, just once, say thank you to us for all the contributions we’ve made (or, at least, tried to make) toward your well-being. We don’t ask for much, but a little gratitude now and then wouldn’t hurt.
Five easy steps. Do this, and we’ll come back and work with you as co-creators of an America we all can love. Until then, though, you can pay your own bills. We’ve decided we have better things to invest that money in — upgraded schools, single-payer healthcare, expanded college systems, mass transit, sustainable technology investments, and forward-looking research to launch new industries that will make us richer yet. And you’ll have a choice, too: you’ll either learn what it takes to produce like we do, or you’ll get to find out what real poverty feels like.
Would that we had the guts to go Galt. We probably don't; it's just not in our natures to tell people who are hurting to go to hell, or leverage our economic might to get the political upper-hand. But there's nothing stopping us from pointing out, loudly and often, exactly who is really who in this producers-versus-parasites relationship. We didn't draw that ridiculous battle line -- but maybe it's time for us to accept their terms of engagement, stake our rightful claim as the country's actual producer class, and show them just how tall and proud we are to stand on our far more fertile ground.