Sadly, the Propagandist Can’t Be Ignored
Look, Pat Crowley of the National Education Association Rhode Island is a paid union hack. One knows what his conclusions will be simply by looking at his job title. He allows no illusion that he will say anything other than what he thinks will benefit his employer, whether true or not. If read at all, his public writings should be studied as examples of propaganda.
Consider his latest missive, which (I suppose) the Providence Journal had no choice but to publish. Crowley attacks people whom he says are making a “Flight of the Earls” argument — that rich people are leaving Rhode Island — notably Ed Achorn and (although he can’t bring himself to say so) me. The first disingenuous aspect of his argument is that the people to whom he points aren’t actually saying what he suggests. Anybody who reads Anchor Rising knows that I’ve been referring to the “productive class” (upwardly mobile working and middle class families) as those leaving the state, and Ed Achorn has been making similar arguments, at least in the several years since I first posted my related research (see here, here, and here).
Unfortunately, respectable journalists continue to take Crowley as a serious participant in intellectual discussion, which leads them to some pretty egregious and misleading errors. WPRI blogger Ted Nesi, for example, writes in response to Crowley’s op-ed:
Projo columnist Ed Achorn says wealthy Rhode Islanders are leaving the state in significant numbers because of high taxes. NEARI official and Rhode Island’s Future contributor Pat Crowley says that’s dead wrong.
Follow Nesi’s link to what Achorn says, and one finds this:
The flight of the middle class is an ominous trend. It puts downward pressure on housing prices, eating away at a key source of most families’ wealth. It drains our state of precious human capital, as educated people who could contribute greatly to charity, civic culture and the tax base head elsewhere for opportunity. It costs jobs, as businesses shut down or move.
Even in Crowley’s fever swamp, the middle class isn’t “the wealthy.” Media professionals risk their credibility when they allow a union mouthpiece to summarize the arguments of his opposition.
But one needn’t read Achorn’s article to have reason to suspect that Crowley is up to tricks. For one thing, Census data showing total population at 10-year increments for the past half-century have only tangential relevance to the question of whether a particular demographic group is leaving the state. Decade-long windows also don’t allow much opportunity to align trends with actual policies. Since the last time the Census came to town, for its year 2000 count, Rhode Island has enacted and done away with phase outs of capital gains taxes and an alternative flat tax. One must look at year-to-year data for such a purpose.
When Crowley does look at year-to-year data, he has no choice but to become anachronistic:
In 2005, there were 11,913 people with incomes over $200,000 a year. By 2008, the number climbed to 12,515. Taxpayers in the $100,000 to $200,000 range grew from 41,817 to 51,904 in the same period. This was the very same period of time The Journal was editorializing that these high-income taxpayers were fleeing the state, and calling for action to keep them here. Action was taken, and we are paying for it with budget deficits.
Actually, no. To the extent that people were arguing that “high-income taxpayers were fleeing the state,” it was prior to these years. The capital gains tax phase out was enacted in 2002, and the alternative flat tax made it through the legislature in 2006. Rhode Island’s annual budget deficits far precede “the very same period of time,” and during the years 2002-2007, the amount of state income taxes that “the rich” have paid has increased in a steep upward slope.
In other words, the increase in wealthy taxpayers that Crowley cites corresponded with the very policies that were supposed to have that effect. Now, in response to the lies and political activity of Crowley’s crowd, those policies have disappeared and, not-so-ironically, leftists and unionists are promoting the effects of the policies as evidence that they were not needed.
The sad thing is that Crowley’s essay is clearly a political strategy. Later this week, the Ocean State Policy Research Institute will be briefing legislators on a report addressing taxpayer migration, going fully public with the report next week. In the meantime, on Monday, I’ll be posting my updated research. As Nesi illustrates when he blatantly mischaracterize’s Achorn’s argument and places it in balanced opposition to Crowley’s propaganda — as if the two sides should be considered equally credible — the tendency will be to see our statements in terms that Crowley has set.
Anybody observing with an unjaundiced eye can begin to see why Rhode Island is in its current predicament.