Atlas Volunteers a Shrug



Tennessee, Tennessee, aint no place Id rather be.
  • "Tennessee, Tennessee, ain't no place I'd rather be."
How's this for buzz(kill) out there in the national medialand?

If you're worried about where America is heading, look no further than Tennessee. Its lush mountains and verdant rolling countryside belie a mean-spirited public policy that only makes sense if you believe deeply in the anti-collectivist, anti-altruist philosophy of Ayn Rand. It's what you get when you combine hatred for government with disgust for poor people.

That's the lede of a piece by Les Leopold at Alternet (and picked up by Salon) titled "The Southern State Fast Becoming Ayn Rand's Vision of Paradise." Leopold runs the numbers:

Tennessee starves what little government it has, ranking dead last in per capita tax revenue. To fund its minimalist public sector, it makes sure that low-income residents pay as much as possible through heavily regressive sales taxes, which rank 10th highest among all states as a percent of total tax revenues. ... As you would expect, this translates into hard times for its public school systems, which rank 48th in school revenues per student and 45th in teacher salaries. The failure to invest in education also corresponds with poverty: The state has the 40th worst poverty rate (15%) and the 13th highest state percentage of poor children (26%). Employment opportunities also are extremely poor for the poor. Only 25% have full-time jobs, 45% are employed part-time, and a whopping 30% have no jobs at all.

Pointing to legislation making welfare contingent on school attendance and performance and other reactionary measures all too familiar to Pith readers, Leopold spins a Randian explanation: Those running our state believe that public policy should reward "creators" for their ingenuity and general fabulousness, and lay the blame where it belongs — on the poor and "the collectivist government liberals who cater to them."

Leopold's larger argument is about the overall approach to poverty adopted by movement conservatives across the country, with Tennessee offered up as a bleeding-edge example. It's nice to lead in something I suppose.

A version of this post also appears at

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