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How to get 84 comments on your paper in one day

Step 1: Speak at Duke.

Step 2: Make sure that Brendan Nyhan is in the audience.

Step 3: Make sure that Kevin Drum reads Brendan Nyhan and cites your article.

Step 4: Make sure that John Kastellec reads Kevin Drum and points you to this post with its 84 comments (so far).

I only wish that Kevin Drum would’ve linked to this pretty picture which I tihnk tells the story so cleanly:


and to our blog entries here and here on the topic.

Anyway, it’s nice to get these ideas out there. To end on a technical note: Drum gives us a bit too much credit when he writes,

The chart above [Figure 13 of our paper] shows how clear this distinction is, and the authors report that it’s become clearer over time. It’s rare to get such a clean regression line in social science data like this, which makes their results pretty provocative.

It’s not quite so clean as all that, however: the points on that graph are estimates from the multilevel model, not raw data, and the model itself pulls the points toward a straight line (to the extent that this line is supported by the data). See Footnote 9 on page 19 for an elaboration of this point. Just to be clear: I do believe this pattern is striking–and, amazingly enough, we discovered it in our analysis, we did not go looking for it. But the super-crispness of the line is somewhat a product of the modeling.


  1. Jeff says:

    To what extent did you control for race in the analysis? The example I saw cited as a state with great disparity in rich/poor voting is Mississippi; the example of little disparity is Connecticut. What else distinguishes these states? Mississippi's black population (36%) dwarfs Connecticut's (9%), and blacks vote enormously disproportionately for Dems.

    I assume your methodology eliminated obvious correlates like this, but just thought I'd ask.

    Just wondering–

  2. richard says:

    I've got a post on my blog with some thoughts about your paper here:
    Rich, Poor, Red, Blue

    I ask some questions about the income scale you used and how that might affect the results, in particular I question what affect the choice of uneven, unadjusted, national income quantiles (instead of COLA adjusted, state-specific quintiles) has on the results.

    Hope you check it out. Interested in feedback.


  3. Robert says:

    Yeah, but how many people read the paper before making comments?

    Anyway, been there, done that. A few years ago I made a plot for one of my classes as an example of labeling points in graphical displays (the point was supposed to be that labeling helps you see a different relationship for the mountain states). Through a convoluted route, Drum linked to it — he seems to have a thing about blue state/red state. Some of the comments were hilarious.

  4. My favorite of the comments is the following:

    A modest suggestion explaining the discrepancy — in red states wealthy people are predominately entrepreneurs, in blue states they are predominately rent seekers, i,e,, doctors therapists, consultants, headquarters staff for Fortune 500, or rentiers.

    Apparently, "rent-seeking" is just a general-purpose slur at this point, just shorthand for "something I don't like." (I'm reminded of Vance Maverick's comment, after we went to a poetry slam, that the definition of poetry is, apparently, "bad things that have happened to me."

  5. TallDave says:

    Rent-seeking vs. profit-seeking. I don't know where the slur comes in, except perhaps in your (overy active?) imagination.

  6. TallDave,

    I guess I'd start with the implicit opposition between "entrepreneurs" and "rent seekers." It seems to me that entrepreneur/non-entrepreneur and rent-seeker/non-rent-seeker are two different dimensions.

    For example, one could be a rent-seeking entrepreneur (Ross Perot? Or consider some local Napoleon within a bureaucracy, or any ambitious politician) who acts as an entrepreneur to create new, lucrative rent-seeking opportunity. And then there rent-seekers who are not entrepreneurs, who are happy with their niche in society.

    Similarly, a non-rent-seeker can be entrepreneurial, creating a new market for a product people want to buy, or could be non-entrepreneurial, just someone who works in the private sector but is not acting entrepreneurially.

    Obviously these are not hard-and-fast distinctions. For example, one might argue that Bill Gates started as a profit-seeker but has moved toward being a rent-seeker, as Windows has become the dominant platform in government agencies. And then I work at a private university but much of my research is supported by government funds.

    I also don't really see why many of the categories given by the commenter (doctors, therapists, consultants, headquarters staff for Fortune 500) are rent-seekers (in the sense of the economics definition that I took from Wikipedia). I guess you could say that doctors are rent-seekers because there are medical licensing restrictions, but they are also profit-seekers (according to the Wikipedia definition) in that they "seek to extract value by engaging in mutually beneficial transactions." Similarly for therapists. I really don't see what the point is with the Fortune 500. Some of these companies must make useful products, no? So what is is that makes the "headquarters staff" rent-seekers and other parts of the organization profit-seekers? And I certainly don't understand the point about consultants. At least when I do consulting, I think I'm providing a useful service. I wouldn't know how to "extract uncompensated value from others by manipulation of the economic environment" if I tried.

    Anyway, this is probably too long a reply for such a short comment. Let's just say that my impression is that "rent-seeking" apparently means different things to different people.

  7. Boris S. says:

    The difference between rich and poor states is still unclear. The "rent-seeking" hypothesis may still be rescued in the sense that rich and poor states may have different relationships with the government such that the rich in rich states may be more/less dependent on government expenditures (defense contracts? MS and CT both get a lot) than the rich in poor states. Something we will be investigating.

  8. Boris S. says:

    MY favorite comment is this:

    It's good to put the ideas out there for discussion. [Andrew's comment]

    Generally, Andrew, when someone knocks your argument on its ass and reveals you to be shilling for a particular cause with skewed data, the best defense is to secure yourself in your underground bunker and keep a lot of Tupperware on hand.

    Andy, what is your, er, our hidden agenda? Shouldn't I be clued in?

  9. b

    I can't tell you the agenda. If I did, it wouldn't be hidden.

    P.S. I agree that the rent-seeking hypothesis relates to different government functions in different states. The government takes from the rich states and gives to the poor states, and this could definitely affect attitudes in some way, all though I'm not quite sure how.