Do tax hikes, welfare spending and minimum wage hikes lower income inequality?

Here’s Heritage Foundation economist Stephen Moore to explain.

He writes:

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren recently appeared on one of the late night talk shows, beating the class warfare drum and arguing for billions of dollars in new social programs paid for with higher taxes on millionaires and billionaires. In recent years, though, blue states such as California, Illinois, Delaware, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland and Minnesota adopted this very strategy, and they raised taxes on their wealthy residents. How did it work out? Almost all of these states lag behind the national average in growth of jobs and incomes.

So, if income redistribution policies are the solution to shrinking the gap between rich and poor, why do they fail so miserably in the states?

The blue states that try to lift up the poor with high taxes, high welfare benefits, high minimum wages and other Robin Hood policies tend to be the places where the rich end up the richest and the poor the poorest.

California is the prototypical example. It has the highest tax rates of any state. It has very generous welfare benefits. Many of its cities have a high minimum wage. But day after day, the middle class keeps leaving. The wealthy areas such as San Francisco and the Silicon Valley boom. Yet the state has nearly the highest poverty rate in the nation. The Golden State, alas, has become the inequality state.

In a new report called “Rich States, Poor States” that I write each year for the American Legislative Exchange Council with Arthur Laffer and Jonathan Williams, we find that five of the highest-tax blue states in the nation—California, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Illinois—lost some 4 million more U.S. residents than entered these states over the last decade. Meanwhile, the big low-tax red states—Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Arizona and Georgia—gained about this many new residents.

What’s wrong? Isn’t raising taxes, growing government and spending more on welfare supposed to make reduce income inequality? Well, the trouble is that you need to think about things from the point of view of the people who create the jobs. People who want to start a business prefer to move to states where they can keep more of the money they earned. So, that’s why there is a mass exodus from states that don’t allow job creators to keep the money they earn. And naturally, they hire workers in their new state once they get there. Eventually people in the high-tax states move to where the jobs are, too.

Stephen Moore has actually measured it:

The least “regressive” tax states [high tax states] had average population growth from 2003 to 2013 that lagged below the national trend. The 10 most highly “regressive” tax states [low tax states], including nine with no state income tax, had population growth on average 4 percent above the U.S. average. Why was that? Because states without income taxes have twice the job growth of states with high tax rates. 

[…]Ohio University economist Richard Vedder and I compared the income gap in states with higher tax rates, higher minimum wages and more welfare benefits with states on the other side of the policy spectrum. There was no evidence that states with these liberal policies had helped the poor much and, in many cases, these states recorded more income inequality than other states as measured by the left’s favorite statistic called the Gini Coefficient.

[…]The 19 states with minimum wages above the $7.25 per hour federal minimum do not have lower income inequality. States with a super minimum wage—such as Connecticut ($9.15), California ($9.00), New York ($8.75), and Vermont ($9.15)—have significantly wider gaps between rich and poor than states without a super minimum wage.

No, I am not an economist, but I think that this is because the real minimum wage is ZERO, and that’s what more people in high minimum wage states make compared to people in low minimum wage states. If Seattle raises the minimum wage to $15 and the workers end up making the real minimum wage (ZERO) because job creators can’t pay them, then naturally the gap between rich and poor increases.

I think it’s always a good idea for people to think about things from the point of view of the small business job creator, and it all makes sense. If you want to get trained in how to do this, I recommend picking up introductory books by economists like Thomas Sowell, Milton Friedman or even F.A. Hayek. The goal here is to achieve good results, not to have good intentions.

2 thoughts on “Do tax hikes, welfare spending and minimum wage hikes lower income inequality?”

  1. No, no they do not. It’s so maddening to those of us who work with poor people, because rather then lift them up, all these policies just knock them down farther. Try to tell the bleeding hearts at the top about that however, and they’ll just unleash the hounds.


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