10 Most Socialist States in America - TheStreet

NEW YORK (TheStreet) - Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders has essentially become the country's spokesman for socialism, according to some.

But just how socialist is the U.S. -- the largest capitalist country in the world -- even without Sanders?

Catching up on your political science terminology, socialism is a form of government in which "economic and political system based on public or collective ownership of the means of production," according to Investopedia. A purely socialist state is one in which the state is responsible for 100% of economic output and spends all of it on social programs, making individuals dependent on the state for everything from food to health care.

Of course, the U.S. government isn't "socialist" by this standard -- even after universal health care from the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare -- yet there are some states that spend more of their output on social programs than others. Web site Insider Monkey first brought attention to the degree of socialism within the 50 states in 2010, determining "socialist states" by using state revenue data divided by state GDP data and developing a ratio. The higher the proportion of state revenues to GDP, the more "socialist," the thinking went. We attempted to reach out to the article's author to discuss her methodology, but did not get a response. TheStreet's sister site, MainStreet, also used a top-down approach in 2010 to analyze which states in the union were more "socialist" than others by measuring total state expenditures as a proportion of its total economic output to compare the size of the public sector in each state.

MainStreet's 2010 article used state gross domestic product figures from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis and state expenditure figures from the National Association of State Budget Officers, to come up with the 10 least and the 10 most socialist states in America. By dividing the latter by the former, tallies the proportion of the state's economic output that is used by the state and its people for collective spending. Since state expenditures and revenues are often very similar, the lists yielded similar results.

Some academics find this methodology flawed. "It is hogwash," said Richard D. Wolff, Professor of Economics Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. "You don't capture [state socialism levels] by a fraction of government spending at the top and GDP at the bottom." Dean Stansel, a research associate professor at Southern Methodist University's Cox School of Business, also felt the methodology wanting because certain states with aggressive social progams don't rank as 'least socialist' as states without them.

"Most observers of state and local fiscal policy would agree that Illinois being on a 'least socialist' list, especially up so high, is a sign that something's substantially wrong with the methodology," Stansel wrote in an emailed response. "The same would be said for California and New York NOT being on the 'most socialist' list." The methodology also omits local government spending, which can be substantial. 

Nonetheless, TheStreet refreshed MainStreet's 2010 story using 2014 state GDP figures from the Bureau of Economic Analysis as well as the total state expenditures for fiscal year 2014 from NASBO's most recent report. Many of the most socialist states on the list are among the most conservative politically -- with the top five all solidly red states. (Note: The District of Columbia was not included in NASBO's annual expenditure report.)

Here are the 10 "most socialist" states in ascending order. Read to the end to see which state is the most socialist.

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10. Kentucky
Total State Expenditures (Estimated Fiscal 2014): $28.83 Billion
Real Gross Domestic Product (2014): $171.85 Billion
Expenditures as Proportion of GDP: 16.8%

Kentucky is the tenth most socialist state in America. Its economy is driven by agriculture, with horse breeding a major industry in the Bluegrass State. Increasingly though, its economy has expanded into auto manufacturing, energy fuel production and medical facilities. Its current governor is Steve Beshear, a Democrat. Its most famous senator is Rand Paul, a Republican and outspoken libertarian, who believes in smaller government -- perhaps not for his own state.  

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9. Delaware
Total State Expenditures (Estimated Fiscal 2014): $9.6 Billion
Real Gross Domestic Product (2014): $56.65 Billion
Expenditures as Proportion of GDP: 17%

Delaware is the ninth most socialist state in America. Its economy is driven by agriculture, such as soybeans and corn; manufacturing, but also financial services and insurance. Additionally, Dover Air Force Base is the largest military facility in the state and contributes to the local economy. Its current governor is Jack Markell, a Democrat.

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8. Hawaii
Total State Expenditures (Estimated Fiscal 2014): $12.58 Billion
Real Gross Domestic Product (2014): $70.53 Billion
Expenditures as Proportion of GDP: 17.8%

Hawaii is the eighth most socialist state in America. Its economy is driven by tourism and the service industries, but also agriculture, specifically the exporting of sugar, molasses. Its current governor is David Ige, a Democrat.

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7. Vermont
Total State Expenditures (Estimated Fiscal 2014): $5.27 Billion
Real Gross Domestic Product (2014): $27.16 Billion
Expenditures as Proportion of GDP: 19.4%

Vermont is the seventh most socialist state in America. Its economy is driven by dairy farming, manufacturing (IBM is its largest for-profit employer) and, increasingly, health care services. The Green Mountain State is also the largest producer of maple syrup. Its current governor is Peter Shumlin, a Democrat.

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6. New Mexico
Total State Expenditures (Estimated Fiscal 2014): $16.22 Billion
Real Gross Domestic Product (2014): $83.59 Billion
Expenditures as Proportion of GDP: 19.4%

New Mexico is the sixth most socialist state in America. Its economy is driven by utilities, mining, oil and natural gas extraction, manufacturing, and tourism. The U.S. government is also a major employer in New Mexico. The state has three air force bases as well as a missile testing range, and other federal government offices. Its current governor is Susana Martinez, a Republican.

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5. Mississippi
Total State Expenditures (Estimated Fiscal 2014): $18.93 Billion
Real Gross Domestic Product (2014): $94.46 Billion
Expenditures as Proportion of GDP: 20%

Mississippi is the fifth most socialist state in America. Agriculture is a big component of Mississippi's economy, employing 17% of the state's workforce, as well as manufacturing and fishing. Its current governor is Phil Bryant, a Republican.

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4. Wyoming
Total State Expenditures (Estimated Fiscal 2014): $7.64 Billion
Real Gross Domestic Product (2014): $37.56 Billion
Expenditures as Proportion of GDP: 20.4%

Wyoming is the fourth most socialist state in America. Its economy is driven by mining and mineral extraction -- including coal, natural gas, methane, crude oil, uranium, diamonds -- and tourism to one of several national parks in the state. Its current governor is Matthew Mead, a Republican.

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3. Arkansas
Total State Expenditures (Estimated Fiscal 2014): $22.74 Billion
Real Gross Domestic Product (2014): $110.7 Billion
Expenditures as Proportion of GDP: 20.5%

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Arkansas is the third most socialist state in America. Its economy is driven by the energy sector, including coal, petroleum, nuclear and renewable energy sources. The economy is also driven by agriculture and the state is a major exporter of rice, soybeans, cotton, poultry and feed grains. Its current governor is Asa Hutchinson, a Republican.

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2. Alaska
Total State Expenditures (Estimated Fiscal 2014): $11.59 Billion
Real Gross Domestic Product (2014): $48.74 Billion
Expenditures as Proportion of GDP: 23.8%

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Alaska is the second most socialist state in America. Its current governor is William "Bill" Walker, a Republican (previously an independent). Major industries in Alaska include oil extraction, tourism, mining, fishing, timber and wood products.

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1. West Virginia
Total State Expenditures (Estimated Fiscal 2014): $23.88 Billion
Real Gross Domestic Product (2014): $68.03 Billion
Expenditures as Proportion of GDP: 35.1%

West Virginia is the most socialist state in America. Its current governor is Earl Ray Tomblin, a Democrat. Major industries in West Virginia include energy (coal, natural gas and wind farms), chemicals, biotech and aerospace, among other industries.