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Why Blue Votes Blue and Red, Red

Near El Rito, NM. It was finally time to come down from the high ridges and head to town to get the usual supplies. Hunters said that the only store in town was a restaurant that was humble, but offered tasty food. Victims of Bernanke's Zero Interest Policy like me have no business "eating out" but sometimes it is irresistible in small towns. It seems like you are really "making a difference" in a place that has the weakest commercial pulse imaginable.

As it turned out, the restaurant was closed anyway. Typical. I drove through the town looking for a small grocery store, but found nothing.

Ahh but there was something else. There were huge school buildings and athletic fields; police headquarters with high tech and expensive squad cars parked outside; and a Forest Service office. It was a large, modern, air-conditioned, office building, decked out in nice office furniture and the latest computers. Outside was an astounding number of motor vehicles; not just high end SUVs, but also payloaders, bulldozers, and fire fighting trucks. The Forest Service office was so incongruous with the host town that "surreal" is the only word that does it justice.

I am guessing that anybody who experienced this would have come away thinking that "something is wrong with this picture," regardless of their political views. What I was seeing in this little burg was just an extreme case of what a traveler sees all over small town and rural America: a moribund private sector, and a huge, thriving, and ever-expanding government sector. Forget the politics -- how is such a situation sustainable economically? Don't the taxes have to come from somewhere? Like where, in an impoverished New Mexican dust hole?

I tried to imagine what my long-deceased father would think if he were driving through a nothing of a town like this. He was a good old-fashioned liberal Democrat, who looked up to FDR and Hubert Humphrey. He was also the union organizer in the teacher's union back in the 1960s when the whole idea of government employee unions was risque in a small conservative midwestern town.

But we had a reasonably prosperous private sector back then. A good liberal like my (public school teacher) father wasn't anti-business. He knew where his paycheck ultimately came from. He just thought that the government was needed to nudge the conservative businessmen and society "forward."

Well, now we are forward. And if he were driving with me through this little dusty rathole of a town with its disproportionate government sector, would he be pleased? 

Not surprisingly the pollsters are predicting that New Mexico will be a "blue" island in a sea of "red" states this election. There are actually productive sections of this state, in the east, and the northwest (Farmington). They produce natural gas and oil, the things that modern life would be impossible without. Presumably those are the counties that vote red in New Mexico.

Comments

Ed said…
Don't forget all the tourist dollars brought into the state when illegals from many countries come to New Mexico to get a drivers license. But the Red governor want to stop that.

"Republican Gov. Susana Martinez's administration told lawmakers Thursday that New Mexico has become a magnet for illegal immigrants coming from other states to obtain a driver's license and officials urged repeal of the license law."
Govie job pay scales are not tied to location. So when they set up shop in some poor little town the become the prince among paupers. I bet it takes a while for the "townies" to warm up to them...
Box Canyon Mark
Bill said…
On the other hand, any influx of money into an otherwise depressed area is positive for the local economy. That is why small towns fight so hard to keep schools in their town rather than consolidate with other towns.
Commenters, thanks for being brave and responding. You don't need me trying to get the last word in, I guess.
Andy Baird said…
"how is such a situation sustainable economically? Don't the taxes have to come from somewhere?"

It sounds as if what you're saying is "Here's all this money being spent, and it obviously isn't coming from the local community." OK, suppose Dell builds a factory in El Rito. Lots of money being spent--obviously not money from El Rito. Would that be a problem? I doubt most people would say so. On the contrary, it would mean employment for scores of locals... who'd be spending their paychecks at local stores. A good thing all around.

So how would that be different from tax money being spent on Forest Service facilities and workers? Jobs are being provided for locals. Useful work (e.g., maintaining camping areas) is being done. The community is being protected (at least to some degree) from forest fires. How is this a bad thing?

Government is just another employer, like any big corporation. Why is it that in some people's minds, a knee-jerk reflex tags any government job as a bad one, and any private-sector job as a good one? We can all agree that tasks such as law enforcement and forest management need to be done. And one way or another, those tasks are going to be paid for by taxes. Why is it automatically bad for those taxes to be used to hire government employees and buy government equipment, but good for them to be paid to private contractors? Would it be better somehow if the Forest Service's work were done under contract by General Dynamics? Would we be better off turning over law enforcement to rent-a-cops?

I ask these questions because I hope you'll set aside those reflexive judgments for a bit, and look at this situation logically. I don't have any ideological axe to grind here. I'm just asking: How can we best accomplish the things that need doing?