The Liberals’ Racism Dodge: An Extreme Case [Updated]

Everyone knows that when a liberal is out of ammo, his first recourse is to accuse those who disagree with him of being racists. This dodge is so familiar, and so ineffective, that I usually don’t bother to comment on it. But today we saw an extreme instance, and one that involves the organization that I run, Minnesota’s think tank, Center of the American Experiment. So here goes.

By way of background, my home state of Minnesota has a lot going for it, but in the 21st Century has suffered from slow population growth, below-average per capita GDP growth, below-average job growth, and below-average income growth. One of the state’s problems is a chronic net outflow of higher-earning workers. The Center published a paper on this in 2016 that received a great deal of attention. That paper was based mainly on the IRS’s vast database that tracks the movements of tax filers from state to state.

For a considerable time, the IRS did not update that database. They finally did, a few weeks ago, with two years’ worth of information. So our senior economist, John Phelan, analyzed the new IRS data and published an op-ed on it in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. It was the most-read column in the newspaper today, according to the Strib’s Editorial Editor, who predicted that it would have a lot of influence in the state’s upcoming legislative session.

John Phelan is British, with an advanced degree from the London School of Economics. His style is inflammatory only in comparison with some other economists. Here are some excerpts from his op-ed:

On net, in every year from 2001 through 2016, Minnesota lost residents to other states. This was a source of much discussion in our state, prompting fears of slower economic growth and a lost congressional seat.

So there was some celebration when, in 2017 and 2018, the Census Bureau found that there were net in-migrations of people into Minnesota from other states, in the net amounts of 7,941 and 6,769, respectively.

Unfortunately, that uptick of migration into Minnesota has proved to be temporary. Figures for 2019 show that in-migration dropped essentially to zero, a positive net of 65 people. And another new data set provides more cause for concern.
The IRS database has just been updated with the addition of two more years of statistics on the movement of taxpayers across state lines, covering the years 2016-17 and 2017-18. Unfortunately, these new data show that the trend that existed as of 2016 continues: Minnesota gains low-income residents from other states, but loses middle- and upper-income residents, generally to lower-tax states.

In fact, the IRS data show that Minnesota, on net, lost $900 million in income to other states between 2016 and 2018. …
In Minnesota, we often hear talk about whether our high tax rates drive away “the rich.” Unfortunately, that is only one of our problems. The IRS database shows that Minnesota was a net loser of residents in every income category from $50,000 up in 2017-18. Out-migration is very much a middle-class issue. By contrast, the state attracted a net inflow of domestic migrants with incomes of $25,000 or less.
In the long run, repelling the middle class and high wage earners is not a sustainable strategy for any state. How can Minnesota do better? High taxes are an obvious culprit. The large and growing body of evidence on the effects of taxation on migration was summarized recently by economists Henrik Kleven, Camille Landais, Mathilde Muñoz and Stefanie Stantcheva. They found “there is growing evidence that taxes can affect the geographic location of people both within and across countries.”

If Minnesota wants to prosper in the 21st century, we must attract, rather than drive away, highly productive citizens. Whether we like it or not, we are competing with other states for jobs and taxpaying residents.

That is the kind of solid, data-based analysis my organization prides itself on, and it is highly influential with both voters and legislators. But a lefty on Twitter saw something completely different:

This is stupid almost beyond belief. “Low income” is “code for people of color”? No, income is an economically significant fact, not “code” for anything. Maybe Mr. Collins is so bigoted that he doesn’t believe that “people of color” can make money. Welcome to the 20th century, you troglodyte: they can, and most often do. But Phelan’s point has nothing to do with race: it has to do with economics. If you chase away people who make money, and attract only people who don’t, you are in trouble. Liberals can’t argue with that obvious proposition, so they name-call instead: “the Klan-robe crowd at the Center of the American Experiment.”

Does publishing data-driven studies of spending, taxes, energy, natural resources, education, economic growth, etc., make you a “Klan-robe crowd”? Sure, if your opponent is a leftist who has absolutely no idea what he is talking about and zero ability to engage in rational debate.

You might assume that Bob Collins, the author of the “Klan-robe crowd” absurdity, is just another mother’s basement moron on Twitter. Perhaps so. But he was also, until a few months ago, one of Minnesota Public Radio’s top political commentators. This post from MPR’s web site bids farewell to Collins on his retirement in April. It congratulates Collins on not trying to be a “fair and neutral” journalist, but rather one who would “tell us when someone is just wrong.” That “someone,” of course, always being a conservative.

John Phelan, a gentleman as always, tweeted to Collins: “I say nothing about ethnicity in this article.”

He gave Collins too much credit. Leftists have their own definition of “racism” that needn’t, as in this case, have anything to do with race. It’s just a pathetic smear. Collins replied, pitifully, to John:

You could say that Bob Collins is just a poor dumb lefty who can’t muster an argument to save his life, and who no longer has any influence over anyone. You would be right. But until a few months ago, he was spreading his hateful ideology throughout the state of Minnesota, in large part at taxpayer expense, under the imprimatur of public radio.

This is the insane leftism that we deal with every day. If you disagree with the left’s party line, whatever it may be at the moment, you are a “racist,” whether or not race has anything to do with the topic at hand. It is stupid, it is weak, and I doubt that it persuades anyone. But it provides a window into the evil that is leftism.

UPDATE: John Phelan responded with his usual restraint here.