A bunch of Facebook friends who (a) live in the Bay Area, and (b) are constantly harping on how income and wealth inequality are America’s most critical problems, have been expressing panic regarding articles such as “Congressional Republican threats to Caltrain funding could cripple Bay Area’s growth”:
Caltrain is seeking $647 million in federal funds, but the state’s entire Republican Congressional delegation sent Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao a letter demanding that she freeze funding until California did a new audit of high-speed rail.
I asked “The Bay Area isn’t sufficiently wealthy and productive to pay for its own trains? Why does a Walmart employee in Alabama have to pay for a Google or Apple executive’s train?” This led to the following exchange:
- Inequality decrier: You have it reversed, California pays more in federal taxes than it gets back. California -today – is subsidizing Walmart’s employees in Alabama by paying for things like food stamps that a large fraction of Walmart employees get as benefits.
- Me: Somehow the state is still rich. So if one of your concerns is income inequality wouldn’t you to want to see as much federal spending as possible directed to needier (more “vulnerable”) states?
- Inequality decrier: The funds that are being withheld for this project are to upgrade commuter train service to SF – we have a huge problem with traffic, and investing in solutions is the smart thing to do. California (and Oregon) had the most robust economic growth of any state in 2016 and is the wealthiest state by far, there’s a reason for that: the State’s policies have led to world-beating industries over and over again. Consider branching out beyond the Murdoch’s Fox News for your views on California. [plus a bunch of stuff about how Kansas, having implemented Republican-proposed policies, is suffering an economic decline]
- Me: All the more reason for wealthy California to pay for its own train and leave scarce federal funds to help the vulnerable in Kansas! Maybe there is some $600+ million project the Feds could find in Kansas that would boost their economy.
- Inequality decrier: You’re saying that California should not receive federal highway funds even though we pay taxes for just that purpose? In what bizarre, delusional world does that make sense? And where have I heard the phrase ‘no taxation without representation’ before?
- Me: If we can agree that inequality is a problem then none of the richer-than-average states should be favored with huge federally-funded infrastructure projects. (My own home of Massachusetts would be similarly excluded.) When equality has been achieved then the federal spigots can be turned back on!
- Inequality decrier: Federal highway funds don’t exist to solve inequality. There are real investments that need to be made for our country to work. One of the reasons that California has done well is that we make infrastructure investments, this one serves silicon valley, one of the most productive regions in the world. Worse, using federal funding to settle political scores, which this pretty clear is, is destructive of the nation as a whole.
- Me: As noted originally, if Silicon Valley is so productive, why can’t they pay for this train so that federal dollars are freed up to be spent in a struggling region of the U.S.? If inequality is not a concern, of course, we could go in the opposite direction. Give all of the money to New York, LA, SF, and DC because they are the richest and therefore most productive.
- Inequality decrier #2: California pays more than their due, and red states take far more than their contributions. It is Californians that are subsidizing Red States, not vice versa, as you claim.
First, I’m not sure about these calculations that California is subsidizing other states. When Medicaid dollars are spent to buy pharmaceuticals in Alabama nearly all the money may find its way to a San Diego pharma company. However, let’s assume for the sake of argument that California is subsidizing these other states. If inequality remains, shouldn’t the subsidy be increased? If the individually wealthy should be hectored with demands that they pay their “fair share” why not collectively wealthy folks such as those in Silicon Valley?
Readers: Can the above Californians be considered logically consistent? How can they simultaneously decry inequality, think of themselves as tremendously financially successful, and try to maximize their share of federal handouts?
[At least some of my neighbors in Massachusetts express a similar desire to receive funding from less wealthy Americans. “Boston arts leaders signal alarm over possible federal cuts” (Boston Globe):
The heads of Boston’s largest art museums have joined a wave of local arts leaders arguing for the importance of federal funding after recent reports that the White House could be seeking to ax the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Meanwhile the New England Foundation for the Arts is lobbying on Capitol Hill and enlisting board members to speak with people close to the Trump administration.
“There is too much at stake here,” said Cathy Edwards, executive director of the New England Foundation for the Arts. “The cultural sector is a major employer. Arts jobs are real jobs, and to pull back on this sector of the economy now just makes no sense.”
In Massachusetts, the NEA provided nearly $920,000 in fiscal year 2016 to the Massachusetts Cultural Council for grants and services. That’s in addition to the roughly $2.7 million the endowment made in direct grants to arts groups, and the roughly $1 million it provided the New England Foundation for the Arts.
Anita Walker, executive director of the Massachusetts Cultural Council, said NEA grants are essential to many of the estimated 62,000 Bay Staters who work in the arts for another reason, as well.
Any time that an insurance company (or Medicaid/Medicare) pays $200,000/year or $375,000/year for a drug made in Massachusetts (examples), there is a large wealth transfer from the rest of America. Why can’t we fund our own arts?]