THE BLOG
10/13/2013 03:01 pm ET | Updated Dec 13, 2013

Is Support for the Norquist Pledge Bad for Your Health?

If you live in a state with high support for the Norquist Pledge, you have (on average) a lower life expectancy.

Residents of the 10 American states with highest support for the Norquist Pledge have shorter life expectancies than those in the 10 states with least support for the Pledge. So it seems appropriate to ask -- is the Norquist small government philosophy bad for your health? This seems particularly pertinent, since the GOP (in obeisance to Norquist and the Tea Party) shut down our Federal government, and threatens to cause the United States to default on its debt -- unless we all agree to smaller, more restricted government.

For those of you not familiar with Grover Norquist, he's a prominent proponent of smaller government, whose goal is:

"... To cut government in half in 25 years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub." -Grover Norquist

Norquist has never seen: A government program he likes, a government employee who deserves a job, or a government labor union that does anything useful. Further, he's not a proponent of bipartisanship, compromise or negotiation, for example commenting that, "Rather than negotiate with the teachers' unions ... we intend to break them."

A proxy for Norquist's influence is his eponymous Pledge -- which politicians must sign, or face focused opposition from Norquist (and his allies). The Pledge requires the signing politician to:

ONE, oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses; and

TWO, oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates. (Source: Americans for Tax Reform

The influence of the Norquist worldview varies widely among the 50 American states. As a proxy for its influence on state policies, I've used the percentage of each state's congressional delegation who've signed the Norquist Pledge. This influence ranges from Idaho and Nebraska (where 100 percent of their congressional delegations signed the Pledge), to Massachusetts (where only 9 percent of the congressional delegation signed).

In the 10 states where the Norquist ideology has the most influence (by percentage of congressional delegation Pledge signers): Life expectancy is lower, and infant mortality, murder rates and road fatalities are higher -- than in the 10 states where Norquist's ideological influence is lowest. More specifically, in the 10 states with the highest Norquist influence, you will (on average): Die two years sooner (77.2 years vs 79.6 years), have a 41 percent higher chance of being murdered (5.8 vs 4.1 per 100,000 population), a 25 percent higher chance of becoming a highway fatality (1.5 vs 1.2 per 100 million miles traveled), and experience a 33 percent higher chance of losing a newborn child (8.0 vs 5.9 deaths per thousand live births), than in the 10 states where the Norquist ideology has the least influence (see Figure 1 below).

Correlation is not causality, and it's possible other influences may be at work -- but based on these numbers, where would you rather live? In a state where Norquist's philosophy is dominant, or in a state with a less ideological view of government size?

Let me offer this for your consideration. If you live in a state where politicians drink deeply from the cup of Norquist, and believe that government is always the problem - those politicians might have created a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If a state's politicians do nothing but complain about the size of government, complain about government employees, extol the virtues of unregulated, unfettered private sector enterprise; and refuse to consider that government can solve problems -- then let me offer the hypothesis that the state's government will likely function less well, be smaller and its government employees won't feel motivated.

The public sector isn't really that different from the private sector. You tend to get what you pay for. Shrinking government is potentially a factor in shorter lives.

Government -- whether large or small -- has no correct size. Government programs should be evaluated by comparing their benefits with their costs, derived as much as possible from objective evidence. An ideological belief that government is always the problem, is just as foolish/short-sighted as believing the private sector is always a rapacious villain. Ideology is not a good way to decide which government programs should be funded.

As for myself, I choose to live in a state where Norquist has relatively little influence, and look forward to (hopefully) a few extra years with friends and family.

Figure 1 Norquist Pledge (Health) by Steven Strauss

Steven Strauss is an adjunct lecturer in public policy at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. Immediately prior to Harvard, he was founding Managing Director of the Center for Economic Transformation at the New York City Economic Development Corporation. Steven was one of the NYC leads for Applied Sciences NYC (Mayor Bloomberg's plan to build several new engineering and innovation centers in NYC), NYC BigApps and many other initiatives to foster job growth, innovation and entrepreneurship. In 2010, Steven was selected as a member of the Silicon Alley 100 in NYC. He has a Ph.D. in Management from Yale University, and over 20 years' private sector work experience. Geographically, Steven has worked in the U.S., Asia, Europe and the Middle East. You can follow him on Twitter at: @Steven_Strauss