Kentucky’s 'devastating' tornadoes show how badly red states need the federal government — whether they admit it or not: Paul Krugman

Kentucky’s 'devastating' tornadoes show how badly red states need the federal government — whether they admit it or not: Paul Krugman

Whether it’s record flooding in New York City and Center City Philadelphia in September 2021, out-of-control wildfires in California and Australia, or more frequent hurricanes in Florida and Louisiana, the brutal reality of climate change is asserting itself in a variety of ways. Kentucky is now recovering from devastating tornadoes, and Sen. Rand Paul has asked the federal government for help —which, liberal economist Paul Krugman notes in his December 14 column for the New York Times, is a perfect example of red states that say they hate the federal government needing the federal government badly.

“On Friday, a devastating swarm of tornadoes swept through Kentucky,” Krugman explains. “The state’s leading figures appealed for federal aid, which was promptly granted — and rightly so. Helping people and communities in need is what nations are supposed to do. Observers couldn’t help noticing, however, that some of the Kentucky politicians asking for aid — notably Sen. Rand Paul — had, in the past ,not only opposed aid for other disaster-struck states, but sneered at their pleas. What should we make of this hypocrisy?”

That hypocrisy, Krugman argues, reflects a “consistent pattern in which conservative states that preach the importance of self-reliance are, in fact, heavily subsidized by liberal states, especially in the Northeast.”

Pointing to data from the Rockefeller Institute for 2019, Krugman observes that Kentucky residents “received an average of $14,000 more from Washington than they paid in taxes.”

“To put this in perspective,” Krugman notes, “Kentucky’s 2019 net inflow of federal funds — $63 billion — was roughly 30% of the state’s GDP that year…. In a real sense, Kentucky’s economy lives on federal dollars…. As a lower-income state, Kentucky receives the full benefit of federal programs like Medicare, but pays relatively little in income or payroll taxes, so it gets much more than it pays in.”

In the New York Times columns as well as on Twitter, Krugman has had a lot to say about the economic impact of climate change —which, according to Krugman, is a major threat in red states whether Republicans admit it or not. The Kentucky tornados bear out what Krugman has been saying. Kentucky has long been vulnerable to tornados, just as Florida has been vulnerable to hurricanes, California has been vulnerable to droughts and wildfires, and Chicago and Minneapolis have been vulnerable to blizzards. Such disasters existed long before climate change, but climate change makes them more severe and more common.

No matter how much Republicans in Kentucky and other red states rail against the federal government, Krugman emphasizes, the fact is they need federal tax dollars badly.

“We want individuals who, for whatever reason, are hurting financially to receive support from the more fortunate, which necessarily implies large transfers from rich states like New Jersey to lower-income states like Kentucky,” Krugman explains. “What’s not OK is when states that are huge net beneficiaries of progressive taxation and the social safety net preen and posture about self-reliance and the evils of big government. It’s even worse when they assert some kind of moral superiority over the metropolitan areas that pay their bills.”

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