The Numbers Show DC Theory Colliding With Reality in America

A theoretical listing of the best states put together by a publication for Washington insiders rates New Hampshire as the best state in the union, and finds that nine of the 10 worst states are in the American South.


However, if you look at Census Bureau data showing where Americans move to and from, five of the top seven states are from the South, and the worst states are New York, Illinois and California. Nine of the 10 worst states by this measure come from either the Northeast or Midwest.

No matter where you look, the differences between the two lists are pretty dramatic. Politico, for example, places Texas a mere 36th on its list, but Americans voting with their feet make Texas No.1. The states most underrated by Politico are Tennessee (48th according to theory, seventh according to reality) and South Carolina (46th in theory, sixth in reality). In fact, the eight most underrated states all come from the South.

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At the other extreme, the five states most overrated by Politico are Minnesota, New Jersey, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

Generally, but not exclusively, the states most overrated by Politico have higher taxes and a more active government than the Southern states preferred by Americans on the move.

What’s going on? Why are people moving to states that rate low on the Politico scale of good states and moving away from those Politico rates highly?

There are two possible explanations. Either the Politico rankings are wrong or the American people are stupid.

Many in Washington, of course, would choose the latter option. But while the American people may not know or care who their congressmen are, most make reasonable decisions on things that are relevant to them and their own lives. So, it is safe to assume that there’s something wrong with Politico’s list.

Politico Magazine based its rankings on 14 categories of data from “reputable sources” on “important factors such as high school graduation rates, per capita income, life expectancy, and crime rate.” That sounds good and plausible on the surface. But since the end result doesn’t match up with reality, it’s likely that the list of “important factors” missed the things that really matter.

For example, while the D.C. publication included “per capita income,” perhaps it didn’t include cost-of-living factors or housing prices. A state like New Jersey may have a higher per capita income but perhaps not high enough to offset the expense of living in the Garden State. Maybe job creation and a big backyard matter more than some of the things Politico considered.

More broadly, perhaps the things that seemed important to Washington insiders really aren’t so important to mainstream Americans. That’s the underlying problem.

This gap between theory and reality isn’t all that harmful when it comes to a listing of the top states. However, the problem of D.C. theory colliding with reality in America has become a permanent feature of our nation’s policymaking process. Whether it’s designing a health care plan or promoting electric cars, Washington politicians think they know what’s best for America. But, most of the time, they end up designing things people don’t want to buy.

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