Why are people in New York and Connecticut unhappy, while the folks in Louisiana and Tennessee are more satisfied with their lives? The obvious answer is the true one: Taxes and spending.
More from The Wall Street Journal: People in high-tax states are less satisfied with their lives than those in low-tax states.
That’s not a fair question. Everyone who can do math already knew this. But what’s interesting is that it points the way forward for all states, especially the ones currently losing their high-earning tax-slaves to less onerous tax-plantations: Cut taxes. Cut spending. Get rid of your kleptocratic union laws.
Or: In the words of John Galt, “Get the hell out of my way!”
The study suggests that quality of life heavily influences happiness. This may seem obvious, but until this study, social scientists have struggled to develop a model that supports this hypothesis. Now we know that people who say they’re satisfied with their lives aren’t just delusional or overly optimistic, and people who say they’re unsatisfied aren’t just pessimists. People have legitimate reasons to be happy or unhappy.7 comments
And well, high taxes seem to be a big reason — ostensibly an even bigger reason than weather given that California is one of the unhappiest states and inclement Louisiana is the happiest. Further, considering how much New York’s crime rate has dropped and schools have improved in the last decade, taxes seem to overwhelm even these two critical factors in the happiness equation. According to the Tax Foundation 2008 analysis, three of the top five unhappiest states—New York, Connecticut and New Jersey—have the highest state-local tax burdens. On the other hand, four of the top five happiest states—Louisiana, Florida, Tennessee and Arizona—are among the states with the lowest state-local tax burdens. True, correlation doesn’t prove causation, and high taxes alone don’t always make people miserable, but there’s something going on here.
In states with high property, income, and sales taxes like New York, people have less money to spend on other things that make them happy. They have less money to spend on vacations, hobbies, home improvements, eating out and child care. Another problem may be that people receive a low return on their tax dollars. The study’s authors note that people are least happy in states that impose high taxes but don’t provide matching public benefits (e.g. good highways to relieve congestion and reduce commute times). It’s in states where taxes disproportionately subsidize public employee pensions and entitlement programs, but don’t much improve the general public’s quality of life, that people are most unhappy.
This intuitively makes sense. If you’re paying more than a third of your income in taxes, as many New Yorkers do, then you expect to realize the benefits from your hard-earned tax dollars. You expect quality schools, good roads, low crime rates, and quick commutes. You expect your local and state governments to be responsive to your needs, not to the cash flows of entrenched public employee unions and other special interests.
Many liberal state governments like those in Albany, Trenton and Sacramento are spending more and more on entitlement programs and public employee pensions, racking up more and more debt, and imposing more and more taxes to pay for it all — while ignoring their taxpayers’ needs. Taxpayers, however, aren’t just getting unhappy. They’re getting out. United Van Lines’ 2009 annual study shows that New York, New Jersey, Michigan and Illinois are among the states with the highest outbound migration while Alabama and Tennessee are among the states with the highest inbound migration.
This doesn’t bode well for high-spending, high-tax states like New York where outbound migrants’ income is 13% greater than that of inbound migrants. In 2006, this differential meant a loss of $4.3 billion in taxpayer income for the state. State governments therefore have a vested interest in keeping residents happy by reducing taxes and reigning in irresponsible spending.