You Don't Need To Carry Water if You Build a Water Pipeline

The other day, there was an intriguing story in the USA Today that a disproportionate share of stimulus money is flowing to counties that voted for Obama.  In fact, counties that voted Obama are getting twice as much per capita so far as counties that did not.  Matt Yglesias writes:

The insinuation of the piece is that the stimulus bill's funding streams are being artfully manipulated or something to disproportionately direct resources toward Obama-loving constituencies....[But] the secret to the riddle seems to be that areas that benefit from federal spending formulae tend to support the Democrats. Not as a result of short-term fluctuations in voting patterns or federal spending levels, but as a structural element of American politics.

Kevin Drum misses Matt's point, I think, when he responds:

Actually, that's not quite right.  It's weirder than that.  I just got around to reading the piece, and aside from the factual statement in the lead, it doesn't insinuate that the money is being unfairly distributed.  In fact, every single paragraph after the lead quotes people saying that there's nothing dubious going on and the money is just being distributed by formula.  The piece doesn't quote a single person, not even Sarah Palin, suggesting that there's any monkey business going on here.

But this does not refute Matt's point as I understand it, that "tinkering" is not necessary because the formulas themselves have been worked over time to preferentially send money certain places.  I would use the analogy that there are well worn channels where the money preferentially flows.

I must disagree that a story that money tends to flow preferentially (on a ratio as high as 2:1) to Democratic districts should be spiked, as Kevin Drum advocates. I think there is a story in this, though certainly I agree with Kevin it is not the story the author set out to write (one of micro-manipulation by Administration employees).

My sense is that the causality involved would be impossible to discover. Does money flow preferentially to these districts because Democrats are better or more focused on bringing home the taxpayer largess to their districts? Or does our money preferentially flow to these districts based on, say, economic or demographic factors that line up well with Democratic constituencies. Or is it, more likely in my mind, a virtuous circle with both factors involved.

Either way, this is an interesting story and some interesting new data in our endless red state-blue state analyses.


  1. Bart Hall (Kansas, USA):

    FDR, on the other hand, who was vastly smarter than Mr Obama, ensured that the lion's share of his stimulus moneys would flow to districts not that had voted for him, but that had been close in their opposition. Money went primarily to areas, not that needed it most, but that offered the best prospect of turning Democrat. Worked pretty well for him, IIRC.

  2. Fred Z:

    Like, everybody is kidding right? I mean when they say they don't understand?

    The syllogisms are quite simple.

    1. Stupid and lazy people are disproportionately poor, and the poor are disproportionately stupid and lazy.
    2. The poor get more government money than others.
    3. Stupid and lazy people disproportionately vote Democrat.

    I'll bet these people were getting more money than the average before the stimulus.

  3. Mesa Econoguy:

    Correct Fred, with one minor change:

    1. Stupid and lazy people are disproportionately journalists, and journalists are disproportionately stupid and lazy.

  4. Joseph Hertzlinger:

    People in the states that went democratic tend to vote democratic. I don't know if that applies to counties. If it does they're just taking their money back. (On the other hand, that also makes the entire exercise look pointless.)

  5. Joseph Hertzlinger:

    Oops! I mean to say "People in the states that went democratic tend pay more in Federal taxes."