Access to Higher Ed Tied to Tax Rates

Lately, CNN’s Lou Dobbs Tonight has become the kind of fare that truck drivers listen to on AM radio while driving cross-country at two in the morning. If audiences ever tire of Dobbs’s wild eyed rantings about immigrants and the trade deficit, debates about alien abductions and the Freemasons can’t be too far behind. Last night, the program took some time out of their platter of anti-free market talking points to hype Juan Enriquez’s new book, “The Untied States of America,” a title that is clearly inspired by my favorite typo from high school civics term papers.

Kitty Pilgrim, pinch hitting for Dobbs on last night’s program, had an illuminating discussion with Enriquez on the fire and brimstone that awaits our divided, nay “untied,” union.

Pilgrim: It is a dire picture that you paint. Let’s bring out some of the highlights. One thing you talk about red versus blue states is interesting. But you talk about wealthy zip codes versus the rest of the country. Flush that out a little bit. What are the demographic trends on this?

ENRIQUEZ: Well, it’s really interesting. See in an agricultural economy, you needed big countries and a lot of people working. The same in a manufacturing economy. In a knowledge economy, smart people tend to cluster together. So there are zip codes like 92121 in San Diego. There’s zip codes like 02139 in Cambridge, and an awful lot of the country’s wealth is generated by a very few brains in a very few places.

To a native Alabamian, this statement is condescending in more ways than one. At best, I think Mr. Enriquez is looking at the wrong side of the coin. At worst, he’s exercising an insular type of academic elitism that discounts the contributions and way of life on Main Street (especially in the South). But, let’s take him up on his template and compare red states and blue states in terms of access to knowledge.

The indefatigable Will Franklin at points out: “taxes are generally lower in red states (ones that Bush won in 2004) than blue states (ones that Kerry won in 2004). This is not so surprising. What might have been slightly more surprising to you was that GDP growth, job creation, and a variety of other economic indicators were substantially stronger in red states than blue.”

Will linked to a chart comparing the cost of public university education in red and blue states. The results shouldn’t surprise many reasonable observers:

Most Expensive
1. Penn State, University Park: $11,508
2. Rutgers, New Brunswick, New Jersey: $11,051
3. University of Vermont, Burlington: $10,748
4. University of New Hampshire, Durham: $9,778
5. University of Massachusetts, Amherst: $9,278

Least Expensive
1. University of Florida, Gainesville: $3,180
2. Florida State University, Tallahassee: $3,208
3. University of Wyoming, Laramie: $3,426
4. University of Alaska, Anchorage: $3,497
5. University of Nevada, Las Vegas: $3,532

There’s a pattern here. Access to higher education is much more affordable in red states (lower taxes, etc.) then blue. Of course, it’s not Harvard or MIT (referenced by Enriquez’s cherry picking of Cambridge as knowledge “cluster”).

As far as secondary education, government has been a total failure. Predictably, Enriquez advocated for more spending (and assigned some of the blame to the jocks, too):

ENRIQUEZ: It is a huge problem if we don’t get serious about education because right now we’re taking sports, and we’re making two a day practices, and we’re making meritocracies. And we are winning all the world’s series versus the rest of the countries of the world.

Yep, if Chloe spent less time swimming laps she’d be a Nobel Laureate.

Instead of introducing competition, like school vouchers, to bring inner city schools up to speed (where reform is needed the most), Enriquez harped on the two America’s theme: red and blue, rich and poor, nerds and athletes, great tasting or less filling…

ENRIQUEZ: Well, I think it is, but what happens is in the measure that those education systems become stronger. The financing there becomes stronger. The smart people and the smart immigrants go to those places. Then a lot of places are left behind, and it becomes harder for those places to catch up.

The obvious answer is to provide incentives to “smart people” and “smart immigrants” to stay and contribute in these places which would most likely offer a stronger return for their investments. In terms of nominal state budgets, jobs, and affordability, red states are winning this battle hands down (i.e. attracting foreign auto manufacturers).

And it’s not because of the sweet tea and mint juleps.

P.S. The Free Market Project ( regularly documents this kind of shortsightedness in the media.