November 2, 2009

Not Breaking in the Least: People Don't Like to Pay High Taxes When They Get Nothing in Return

Carroll Andrew Morse

For those interested in the continuing debate about the relation between taxpayer mobility and tax-rates, Los Angeles Times op-ed contributor William Voegeli adds another analysis based on multi-state Census data…

One way to assess how Americans feel about the different tax and benefit packages the states offer is by examining internal U.S. migration patterns. Between April 1, 2000, and June 30, 2007, an average of 3,247 more people moved out of California than into it every week, according to the Census Bureau. Over the same period, Texas had a net weekly population increase of 1,544 as a result of people moving in from other states. During these years, more generally, 16 of the 17 states with the lowest tax levels had positive "net internal migration," in the Census Bureau's language, while 14 of the 17 states with the highest taxes had negative net internal migration.

Comments, although monitored, are not necessarily representative of the views Anchor Rising's contributors or approved by them. We reserve the right to delete or modify comments for any reason.

Post hoc ergo propter hoc. Bulletproof analysis, that.

By the same logic, the vast majority of Americans must prefer liberal politics since many, many more people live in CA and the Northeast in high density blue states. And in RI, we prefer lower performing schools over higher performing ones because so many more people live in Providence than in Barrington. Isn't righty "logic" fun?

Posted by: Russ at November 2, 2009 12:33 PM

Russ, what's a better explanation then? You see no reason for people to move out of California and to move in to Texas? Or any of those other states mentioned? C'mon big boy, if you're going to attack, back it up with some actual reasoning. If you can't, you're just another blowhard.

Posted by: Patrick at November 2, 2009 1:05 PM

Ah, out come the ad hominem attacks.

As to why folks move from CA to TX, my guess would be housing costs or maybe the better Tex/Mex. The point is, who knows?

Last I checked, none of that is an excuse for uncritically parroting junk math. Otherwise, etc, etc.

Posted by: Russ at November 2, 2009 1:45 PM

>>many more people live in CA and the Northeast in high density blue states. And in RI, we prefer lower performing schools over higher performing ones because so many more people live in Providence than in Barrington. Isn't righty "logic" fun?

Don't confuse the composition and the trends Russ.

The people moving tend to be the productive / middle class people who actually work for a living and are net taxpayers.

They are being displaced by non-productive people who are net tax consumers.

As for Providence schools, note the composition. Anchor babies and welfare babies. Few middle class children. The upper class kids are in private schools, and the middle class has been moving to the suburbs for decades to escape city schools, in Providence and elsewhere.

Rhode Island's overall population has stayed relatively stagnant only because of the influx of illegals and their anchor baby progeny.

That's the trend and the composition.

Posted by: Ragin' Rhode Islander at November 2, 2009 1:53 PM

That's the best you got? "who knows?" And as for "attacks", it would seem that's what you started with. So it's ok for you to come out blasting the post, but not ok for me to ask you for a reasoning behind your disagreement. Gotcha.

It would seem to reason that when almost all high tax states lose population and low tax states gain population, there just might be a correlation there.

As for good Mexican food, southern California's got that one going pretty well too.

Posted by: Patrick at November 2, 2009 2:47 PM

Gee thanks for the lowdown on my hometown, RRI. Utter and offensive nonsense of course, flogging the usual wingnut targets.

Last year, Rhode Island...
- Moved up 13 places to 15th nationally in the number of "knowledge jobs".
- Was a "Top Five Mover" since 2002 in the number of managers, professionals, and technicians as a share of the total workforce.
- Ranked 5th nationally in the number of scientists and engineers as a percentage of the workforce.

Posted by: Russ at November 2, 2009 2:54 PM

"16 of the 17 states with the lowest tax levels had positive "net internal migration," in the Census Bureau's language, while 14 of the 17 states with the highest taxes had negative net internal migration."

Gosh, there has to be something wrong with these numbers. The accumulation and preservation of money is never a motivating factor in people's actions.


Posted by: Monique at November 2, 2009 4:09 PM

"That's the best you got? 'who knows?'"

Um, yeah. I'd rather that than be smuggly confident and wrong (that of course is your perogative). As to "reasoning", my work involves quite a bit of data analytics, but you don't need an engineering degree to spot bad math. I recommend The Drunkard's Walk.

Posted by: Russ at November 2, 2009 4:11 PM

My prediction: If the 2010 elections in this state produce the same old, same old, you won't be able to rent a UHaul here. The producers will leave in droves. Because they can. Anyone care to wager?

Posted by: Madmom at November 2, 2009 6:02 PM

Russ' version of bulletproof analysis:

A correlation between two variables is pointed out (tax-rate and migration). Russ replaces the variables in the set with two new variables and suggests that there is no correlation in the new pair (overall state size and "liberalness" of policies). Russ then concludes that because there is no correlation between his pair of variables, there can be no meaningful inference drawn between any other pair of variables.

(And as a bonus, as he is lecturing everyone on his mathematical superiority, he manages to mangle the basic facts of the original analysis. Who said anything about migration from California to Texas?!?)

Posted by: Andrew at November 2, 2009 6:58 PM


You really should read your sources before providing them... or at least don't assume that your rhetorical opposition won't read them. Apart from saying multiple times that different methodologies make comparisons of overall scores useless, a quick review suggests that Rhode Island's high density of universities and hospitals and small (and shrinking) overall workforce account for much of our "success."

Some of the individual rankings that should indicate a healthy economy are abysmal, for RI. Fastest Growing Firms: 45. Entrepreneurial Activity: 31. Technology in Schools: 45 (wonder where all our education "investment" goes...). And I don't suppose you'd like to credit the flat tax and formerly out-fazing capital gains tax for some of our better ranks.

Posted by: Justin Katz at November 2, 2009 7:15 PM

Too many people in this thread seem to be missing an essential point -- taxes are only half the equation. What you get in exchange for them is the other. And the difference between them is the value you receive. In my life, I've paid very high taxes and still thought I was getting superior value. And I've paid very low taxes and thought I was getting terrible value.

That RI and California have relatively high taxes compared to Texas doesn't tell me much. And I would agree that, except for some die-hard anti-tax types, high taxes on their own probably aren't a heavily weighted factor when deciding whether and where to move. On the other hand, poor value is a very good reason to move. And when you listen carefully to what people who are leaving RI give as their reasons, it isn't about high taxes; it is usually about poor value. As in I pay high taxes and in exchange get poorly performing schools, lousy roads and bridges, an anti-business low job growth climate, and a social welfare system so attractive that it is fundamentally changing the character of the state. I hear the same type of arguments from people who are leaving California -- its not the high taxes and its not the weather. Its the poor value they get in exchange for what they pay. Conversely, its not the low taxes in places like Texas that attracts them -- it is the superior value they receive in exchange for the taxes they pay.

Why is this so hard to understand? Because it doesn't fit into a neat ideological box?

Posted by: John at November 2, 2009 7:42 PM


That is actually the main point of the Voegeli article. Here's his opening paragraph...

In America's federal system, some states, such as California, offer residents a "package deal" that bundles numerous and ambitious public benefits with the high taxes needed to pay for them. Other states, such as Texas, offer packages combining modest benefits and low taxes. These alternatives, of course, define the basic argument between liberals and conservatives over what it means to get the size and scope of government right.
(Note also that Voegeli, at least, fits things quite neatly into existing ideological bins.)

Posted by: Andrew at November 2, 2009 8:09 PM

>>Moved up 13 places to 15th nationally in the number of "knowledge jobs". Was a "Top Five Mover" since 2002 in the number of managers, professionals, and technicians as a share of the total workforce. Ranked 5th nationally in the number of scientists and engineers as a percentage of the workforce.

Sure - thanks to Raytheon and the rest of the defense industry working as subcontractors for the Naval Underwater Warfare Center in Newport.

Oops. Obama is cutting the defense budget isn't he? Oh well. Nevermind RI's tech industry - no stimulus here, so no jobs created or "saved."

Rhode Island (and the Northeast in general) is in decline. The high taxes and unionization the accompany long=term Democrat control guarantee that. I know a number of people that have already left Rhode Island because of the political, tax and economic dysfunction of the state. None that I've spoken with indicate any desire to return now that they've tasted life in low-tax states. But don't take my word for it:

The (Tax) War Between the States

Posted by: Ragin' Rhode Islander at November 2, 2009 10:01 PM


To clarify, I'm thinking more along the lines of Kotkin (in the article's reference). It isn't the number or level of benefits, per se, rather, it is their quality. You can have a high tax model that attempts to deliver lots of benefits but does a very poor job of implementation and ends up delivering poor value. At the other end, you can have a low tax, low benefit package where the benefits are very high quality (though relatively less extensive) that delivers superior value.

The key distinction isn't so much in the number of benefits, rather, it is in how well they are delivered, by whatever metric you choose. RI, for example, has chosen to charge high taxes for a very broad offering to the citizens of the Ocean State. However, they have completely cocked up the implementation/delivery of that offering, which has resulted in inferior value for money compared to other state, and, consequently, accelerating out-migration by people who we can least afford to lose.

Posted by: John at November 2, 2009 11:42 PM

And to continue on the taxes for value theme, how many times do we need to hear Dan Yorke rail on every winter about the difference in snow plowing at the state lines? How about the differences in road quality? How about the differences in school quality? Nothin' doin' there. But if you're someone who's looking for the handouts, now there's some serious taxation to value.

If you live in Seekonk, Swansea, Somerset, etc, please put your house up for sale, I'll be interested.

Posted by: Patrick at November 3, 2009 8:03 AM

Sorry, Andrew, but a single data point by definition cannot establish "a correlation between two variables." And note that even if we assume that there is a correlation, that is not to say that implies causation (for instance, I always brush my teeth in the morning and the sun always rises). As I said above, who knows? Again, I don't think one needs an engineering degree to understand this stuff, but from your response I'd say picking up the Mlodinow book would do you some good.

And as to dense states
"proving" our love of liberalism, I'm only pointing out how ridiculous this all is.

Posted by: Russ at November 3, 2009 9:39 AM

Justin, not sure your point there. I encourage you and anyone else to read the Kauffman State New Economy Index. Lot's of interesting info in there (for instance our #2 ranking in health care IT).

But RRI's idea that "productive / middle class people who actually work for a living" are being "displaced by non-productive people" is at best demonstrably false and at worst thinly veiled racism. In fact, the report details the benefits of foreign immigration in business and job creation.

Posted by: Russ at November 3, 2009 9:53 AM

>>But RRI's idea that "productive / middle class people who actually work for a living" are being "displaced by non-productive people" is at best demonstrably false and at worst thinly veiled racism. In fact, the report details the benefits of foreign immigration in business and job creation.

Why did I know that the racism charge would be forthcoming?

As for "demonstrably false" the proof is in the pudding. RI and Michigan are the two states actually losing population.

Rhode Island's Hispanic population has gone from next to nothing a couple of decades ago to double digits - meaning that an similar number of native born have left.

We all know that the bulk of the Hispanic population here is low skilled, typically illegal and producing anchor babies in need of ESL and special ed. Exhibit 1: the Providence and Central Falls and Woonsocket school systems.

Unlike the period preceding the Ted Kennedy immigration "reforms" of the 1960's, our immigration policy is not favoring educated, skilled immigrants so that we are importing the best and brightest, but instead today is skewed toward importing third-world poverty.

Importing welfare recipients -- who receive more in public benefits than their entire gross income, much less the fact that they don't any pay taxes - - is not economically stimulative, except to the warped world-view of Kate Brewster and the folks at the Poverty Institute.

Rhode Island is becoming poorer as its middle-class is being decimated by the double-whammy of high taxes to subsidize the public-worker aristocracy and poverty industry, and ever-declining job opportunities as employers look at things like the Forbes rankings of business climate and avoid corrupt, high-tax, poorly educated, collapsing-infrastructured Rhode Island.

Posted by: Ragin' Rhode Islander at November 3, 2009 10:38 AM

"Why did I know that the racism charge would be forthcoming?"

My guess is it's because it's not the first time you've heard it. And by your response (the bulk of the Hispanic population here is illegal?), I'd say my suspicion wasn't far from the mark.

Posted by: Russ at November 3, 2009 11:15 AM


Please explain to me what immigration status has to do with ethnicity / race?

Is it your position that most people who have entered or remain in the United States illegally aren't Hispanic? I guess that La Raza and McCain-Kennedy didn't get the memo.

Do you mean that the Irish illegals in South Boston are really Hispanic, since your logic appears to be that illegal status means that one is Hispanic?

I've noticed that on census forms and EEO employment application questionnaires they ask if one is, e.g., Hispanic? Is it your position that these are questions regarding immigration / citizenship status?

Funny, on the I-9 verification of employment eligibility form they don't ask about ethnicity, but immigration / citizenship status.

Funny, I prefer to deal with reality, not political correctness -- or unilateral surrender in the debate of ideas in order to avoid tactical but fallacious allegations of racism from the other side.

So let's deal with facts, shall we?

By far most illegal aliens in the country are Hispanic (and while technically anchor babies are "legal" - they wouldn't be here but for illegal immigration).

By far most of them are poor and unskilled. Last time I looked, that was an economic condition, not an ethnic one. A characteristic shared with past great waves of immigrants, such as Italians and Irish (albeit most of whom entered legally).

Another politically incorrect news flash.

By far most, if not all, Islamic terrorists are Muslims -- that's why they're ISLAMIC terrorists!

So now you can accuse me of racially profiling Muslims.

Knock yourself out.

Posted by: Ragin' Rhode Islander at November 3, 2009 12:15 PM


There are 34 examples in the dataset being discussed. That's enough for some statistical inference. The correlation is an observation, not something that is assumed. You seem to be stumbling around the point that a correlation from a single data set does not prove causation, but that doesn't imply that an observation of the correlation is invalid.

Your brushing-your-teeth example is an example, actually, of one reason why correlations by themeselves cannot prove causation, because you can't always be sure from correlation data alone which way the causal chain goes. But if the Sun fails to come up one morning, there's little chance that you'll be alive to brush your teeth, so the events are connected, just in the reverse way that you failed to consider. The example is not a justification the anti-intellecutual attitude that there's nothing to be learned from correlations, but instead is a single instance of an inability to properly analyze data.

Posted by: Andrew at November 3, 2009 1:34 PM

"There are 34 examples in the dataset being discussed. That's enough for some statistical inference."

That's sort of like saying that the fact that everyone on my street brushes their teeth every morning and the sun rises is more relevant than my previous example. Not so.

That's not to say the data point isn't interesting in forming a hypothesis: that migration and tax rates are related. But you can't prove the hypothesis with the same data set you used to form the hypothesis.

What you'd look for is a statistical analysis that controls other variables and then looks for how closely migration changes when tax rates change. That's proof of correlation, which can occur in varying degrees (strong vs. weak correlation). Again, that's not to say that would be proof that one causes the other, only that the variables are related.

Easier said than done, as it's very difficult if not impossible to control other variables and raising/lower taxes to prove a theory isn't such a great political platform. I did here of some interesting things going on in virtual communities.

Posted by: Russ at November 3, 2009 4:26 PM

Let me just say Andrew you are right on target with your statement “People Don't Like to Pay High Taxes When They Get Nothing in Return”.

I was born and raised in RI, married and lived in RI for over 60 years. My family and my wife’s family are politically connected to both parties and have been in elected and appointed government offices but we can’t really fault the other family for their indiscretion. I have been associated with municipal, state and federal governments so I’ve seen the high points and low points of RI from the front door and back door.

In making a determination to retire a lot of issues came into play that were normally not paid attention to in daily life especially medical. The largest was quality of life, second was taxes and third was value of services provided. The house was paid, the cars were paid, there was no credit card debt and there was money in savings accounts.

For the last 30 years vacation trips to the Hawaiian Islands, other states and cruises were being made. Both my wife and I had travel extensively to other countries as part of our jobs so to say we were locked in New England and RI culture would be unfair. After a while we really started to spend our weekend out of RI due to cultural changes at public events and rudeness which we were not finding in other states.

We did a lot of comparison of state taxes on Retirement Living. com and visits to other states:

For quality of life at retirement age, cost of living and value, Hawaii beat out all other states for what was offered hands down. My property taxes for same cost of residential property went from $2,700 in RI down to $175 in HI. Yes HI has the most expensive real-estate in the nation (beat out California this year to regain title) but the property taxes for seniors (in HI anyone over 50 is considered a senior) are very affordable.

There are free shows and concerts multiple times during the day and night every day as well as free movies complements of the city and state. Free weekly fireworks displays complements of a hotel. Restaurants offer discounts up to 50% off any meal to seniors and stores offer discounts of 10-20% off and up. Tickets for non-free venues are discounted to seniors. Banks offer $0.05 off per gallon gasoline discount cards up to one fill-up a week. The beaches are free with free parking. The parks are free with free parking. The public bus system was rated one of the best in nation and senior unlimited bus pass is $30 a year. There are other special discounts offered by all businesses. Best one is unlimited free calling to the lower 48 states on land line telephones. There is something to keep you busy, entertained each day of the week. Seniors are highly respected in HI.

One myth is that its expensive living in HI. Well yes if you want to eat and live like you do on the mainland why do you think there are tourist’s districts so you can have all those amenities, activities, night clubs open till 4 AM, and nightly Las Vegas type shows!

The HI general excise tax is 4% and every for profit and non-profit transaction is taxed except prescription drugs verses RI sales 7% tax with list of exceptions. To be honest, you don’t even feel the 4% after awhile and the free entertainment; beach parking you get is worth the 4% paid. RI daily combined tourist tax (hotel, food and rental car) is $5 total more a day than HI combined tourist tax.

Best part of living here is the 365 day growing cycle at the farms. There are farmer’s markets each day of the week. 90% of my food is local grown including natural grass fed meats not stuff shipped in from the mainland frozen that was fattened in feed lots. The sea food here is just awesome!

There is no winter heating bill to put up with yet you can go snow skiing or snowboarding from Nov. to Mar on up to 5 mile runs every year. No fall, spring or winter clothing to fill the closets. There is at least 350 days of sun (vitamin D) every year with temperatures around 85 and a cool trade wind breeze so you really don’t need air-conditioning. Average year round daily temp is 77 degrees. I do not close my windows all year round.

HI does not tax retirement income like RI does. Certain types of retirement income are exempt in HI where there are no exemptions in RI. Yes HI has the highest income tax bracket tax in the nation but $2 to $42 million houses regularly change hands here. HI has the highest percentage per population of millionaires in the nation with disposable $1 million cash. There is no property tax on motor vehicles, boats or motorcycles so you will see lot of European exotic cars on the roads (highest speed limit is 60 mph for 5 miles).

The HI government is very small and compact. Being the 50th and last state to enter the union maybe the constitution was copied from the best parts of the other 49 states. HI is 1,600 mile long and the 47 largest states covering over 120 islands but has one state government, four county seats with four mayors and city councils and one school district with one superintendent. HI is very conservative and will swing democrat, republican or split down the middle. The transparency in government and ethics laws here is refreshing.

HI is ranked best in nation for quality of wellness, closest state to providing universal health care to state population, state with lowest stress and longest sleeping hours of population. I’ve been very pleased with quality of medical services and doctors in HI.

I could go on and on about all the ranking and things that go on out here in the middle of the Pacific Ocean but I think you are understanding where I am coming from. HI is not trying to beat out Washington State or California but just focusing on trying to take care of its own people something RI use to do before it started comparing it self to MA and CT.

One big note; everyone living in HI is considered a minority. There is no ethnic majority. Over 40 languages are spoken daily in HI. There are no ethnic neighborhoods and no real neighborhoods by class or wealth. Everyone lives together. You are gauged by what you bring to the table and what you can give back to the land because without taking care of the land none of us will survive rich or poor. There is a community family togetherness.

Of course other states will meet the quality of life requirements to other individuals like my friend who retired from RI to Denver, Colorado because he loves hiking in the mountains, another who retired to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina because she loves the beach, warm weather and another who retired to New Hampshire near Canadian boarder because they wanted solitude. Each one of us has different values, wants and needs but lowering taxes so you have more disposable funds, increasing ones quality of life and receiving increased value of services should be on your radar screen especially when you are on a fixed income.

I have stopped drinking coffee since I moved to HI. So relaxed!! Maybe this is why they call it paradise!

Posted by: Ken at November 3, 2009 5:54 PM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

Important note: The text "http:" cannot appear anywhere in your comment.