RALEIGH – Never been a zombie fan, I must say.
Zombie-themed entertainment – with the exceptions of the original Night of the Living Dead flick, the classic Simpsons tale “Dial Z for Zombies”, and a few catchy hits by the classic 60s rock group The Zombies – has always left me cold. And my least-favorite villains to confront in the soon-to-be-classic computer game City of Heroes are the Vahzilok cadavers and abominations, who spew poisonous liquids from various orifices but mostly just tire you out in beating them up. So many animated punching bags, so little time.
I mean, how scary is a zombie, really? It stumbles along after fleet-footed prey, catching up only thanks to the obligatory trip-and-fall of the least-bankable actors in a film. A zombie is addled and easily confused. It is monosyllabic. It’s gross, not dangerous. Basically, it’s every stoner you knew in college.
In political debate, metaphorical zombies are also pervasive and annoying. I’m referring to those assertions – and perhaps to those politicians or activists who mindlessly repeat them – that lack any factual basis, that have been debunked again and again and yet keep ambling along, cluttering up the place and stinking it up, too.
A good example is the now-infamous finding of a “study” a couple of years ago alleging that North Carolina’s tax burden on business was among the lowest in the United States. To most people engaged in entrepreneurial start-ups or business-location decisions, the assertion was never credible. And to those who bothered to examine the study itself, the source of the error wasn’t hard to find: because the researchers did not consider taxes imposed on individual income or purchases to be part of the tax climate for business, they ended up essentially ranking states according to whether they had high or low taxes on real estate.
To suggest that taxing retail sales has no effect on, say, retail sales, or that taxing individual income has no effect on individuals who start and manage businesses, is to suggest that taxes per se have no effect on state economies. There is a school of thought based around this proposition, that state and local taxes are economically unimportant, but it reflects theories and studies that are 20 to 30 years out of date. In recent years, using more sophisticated models and more extensive data about business and consumer behavior, most scholars who study the issue have concluded that taxes play a significant role in explaining differences in state economic health, though not a primary or overwhelming one.
An excellent discussion of the academic literature on state and local tax effects can be found in a new report from the Washington-based Tax Foundation offering up the latest version of its State Business Tax Climate Index. Incidentally, North Carolinas’ ranking in the 2006 index is a more-believable 37th out of the 50 states, ranked in ascending order of tax cost. That is, number-one-ranked Wyoming is said to have the tax structure most congenial to business formation and growth, and New York, at 50th, the least congenial. On this measure, North Carolina’s tax structure is clearly the least desirable in the Southeastern region, with Florida ranked 4th, Alabama 14th, Tennessee 15th, Virginia 19th, and Georgia 21st. Among Southern states as a whole, only Arkansas at 41st ranks lower, though Louisiana is pretty close at 36th.
North Carolina has a low tax burden on business? Not on your life. And not on your death. As for the in-betweens, zombies aren’t real. Or real interesting.
Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation.