THE BLOG
10/02/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Red Alaska

Here's an interesting tidbit about Sarah Palin's home state of Alaska: it's socialist.

When pundits refer to Alaska as the 'reddest of red states,' they could as easily be referring to its oligopolistic resource extraction-based economy and its redistributionist state taxation regime as to its electoral tendencies. Eighty percent of Alaska's state government revenues come from just one source, oil. That's just ten percent less than in Saudi Arabia and thirty percent more than in Venezuela. Because of this enormous oil wealth, Alaskans don't pay state-levied income or sales taxes, and have the lowest tax obligations in the country. In fact, Alaska residents are paid out directly from the industry, in the form of annual checks of up to $2,000 from the oil industry-financed "Alaska Permanent Fund."

When the Alaskan state government needs more money, legislators don't have to resort to jacking up taxes on working Alaskans, or scrapping social programs, or turning to 'market-based solutions.' They can just raise taxes on the profits of Big Oil, as Sarah Palin did last year (not as bold a move as one might assume, given that record profit-making oil companies in Alaska had just been exposed for bribing legislators) in an effort to attain for the Alaskan people "an equitable share for our resources," and like President Hugo Chavez did in his country a few months ago for much the same reason. In fact, just last week, Palin cut checks of $1,200 to every Alaska resident to offset the burden of rising fuel prices, paid for by taxes on the oil industry. That beats the hell out of McCain's 'gas tax holiday' for making a real difference in the pocketbooks of working Alaskans. No wonder she's so popular.

If Palin's approach to taxation of the oil industry reflected a governing philosophy that drove her vision for the country at large, I might just be tempted to revise my opinion of the McCain ticket. If such were the case, under a President Palin (a distinct possibility should the McCain campaign prevail, given the candidate's age and health), we might see Countrywide Financial taxed as never before, with the proceeds going to assist foreclosure victims in buying new homes. We might see the thirty cents on the dollar that the insurance industry takes from your premium payments and directs toward corporate profits and overhead reduced to twenty cents, with the other dime going to relieve patients saddled with impossibly high medical debt payments, or to creating a Medicare-for-All system of national universal healthcare coverage. Or we might see the defense industry taxed to pay for MRE's and flack jackets for our troops in Iraq. Such would be the dividends of an "equitable share for our resources" that we might expect from a socialist government such as the one Sarah Palin runs in Alaska. Forget about the New Deal-style big bureaucratic government programs so detested by the GOP; if Palinomics implied the kind of aggressive, direct redistribution of wealth from capital to labor that was responsible for generating those $1,200 checks, I'd be happy to give myself over to this re-tooled, pinkified marketplace.

Of course, that's just so much wishful thinking, childish fantasizing of a world in which Republican politicians believed what they said, and governed as they believed. Palin may run a quasi-socialist state government, but only because it's convenient in Alaska. No such easy solutions to budget shortfalls and rising energy prices will come in Washington DC, where the absence of an economic Everlasting Gobstopper like the Alaskan oil fields requires actual choices with actual political consequences, and where ideologies count in policy making. There, you can expect from Palin what you can expect from McCain: a government controlled by corporate lobbyists and committed to the interests they represent, and a near complete indifference to the struggles of working families.

But it's instructive to bear in mind, as conservative Republicans laud her record as governor, that much of Alaska's social welfare is based on what amounts to a socialist principle of taxing big corporations for their use of publicly owned resources and returning a portion of those profits back to regular working people trying to pay their heating bills. That Palin has been a champion of that principle is a fact that her Weekly Standard cheerleaders might just as soon forget, and that she, no doubt, will also forget as soon as she steps into the White House -- should she ever be so lucky.