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Four Histories Of The Right’s 47 Percent Theory

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Four Histories Of The Right’s 47 Percent Theory


2. The Battle: Right Wing Think Tanks and the New Culture War: Let’s jump forward, and see how the expensive, Washington D.C. think tanks react to President Obama. President Obama is a wonky technocrat, and much of his policy borrows from conservative policy of the 1990s (health care) or bipartisan policy of the 2000s (cap-and-trade) or policy that was new and open to debate (post-crisis financial regulations). The new president of the American Enterprise Institute, Arthur C. Brooks, writes a book calledThe Battle: How the Fight between Free Enterprise and Big Government Will Shape America’s Future. How does he think of the 47 percent? Focusing on “long-term strategies to keep the young in the 30 percent coalition,” he writes:

Federal tax policies are ensuring that an increasing number of people in our society will never develop a pocketbook interest in free enterprise. Even as they grow older, develop their careers, and earn more money, many will never pay a dollar in federal income tax because they’ll never catch up with an increasingly progressive tax system.

To put a modern twist on an old axiom, a man who is not a socialist at 20 has no heart. But a man who is still a socialist at 40 has no head-or pays no taxes. The current trend will increase the percentage of Americans who are permanent net takers from our society, who use more in public resources than they contribute, and for whom a free-enterprise system of entrepreneurship and limited government holds few obvious personal rewards. In a nutshell, the strategy is to make fewer and fewer people pay all the taxes and bear the brunt of paying for a growing government […] After President Obama’s budget stimulus and the proposed tax changes of 2011 […] this proportion will increast to almost 47 percent. […]

Simply stated, in the future there will be fewer and fewer people with “skin in the game.” Nonpayers will outnumber the payers. We will enventually reach a threshold beyond which most Americans have no economic incentive to defend free enterprise because it is so far from their interest to do so. The young sympathizers of socialism today may be the grown-up defenders of socialism tomorrow.

As Mark Schmitt wrote, “this theory that we’re headed toward a radical egalitarian state is being developed is the American Enterprise Institute, the oldest of the conservative think tanks and one that, much like Romney, has forsaken the traditional business-minded conservatism of, say, the first President Bush, for hard conservatism in which everything is a grand showdown of incompatible worldviews.” And The Battlewas the first statement that President Obama was at the vanguard of a new culture war on economic issues. Instead of wanting a government that consumes 25 percent of GDP and has a public welfare state versus one that consumes 19 percent and has a private welfare state, he is the economic equivalent of Robert Mapplethorpe. The right takes this book seriously; the author of the most prominent critical review of the book from the right was canned from his think tank job a month after it came out.

Who? The “30 percent” are the ones behind this expansion of people who don’t pay federal income taxes, and they’ll continue to expand it. Now before you think you wandered into a Wu-Tang song, we should clarify Brooks’ definition of the 30 percent and the 70 percent. The 30 percent are a group of people who“reject the free enterprise system culturally.” The free enterprise system stands in “stark contrast to European-style social democracy.” The 30 percent “twists equality of opportunity into equality of outcome.” Any idea that American liberalism stands in contrast to free market laissez-faire and Marxism isn’t explored; the 30 percent are entirely the bad guys, waiting to fundamentally change the country. Jonathan Chait wrote an excellent review of the book here,

Consequences? The big consequence is that this locks young people into socialism and the intellectual space of the 30 percent coalition, building their power. Having never paid taxes, they and others who benefit will think of government as free. So the 30 percent are then capable of continuing to seize more centralized control of the economy and defeat the cultural forces of free enterprise. The Battle is obsessed with how President Obama won in 2008; one conclusion is that the 30 percent doesn’t need to win people over intellectually, but just needs to keep enough people not paying taxes so that they’ll form a coherent base, particularly the young. But the 30 percent culture allows Romney to note that those who oppose his message “are dependent upon government [and] believe that they are victims.”


  1. Justin Napolitano September 24, 2012

    Wow, I didn’t think it was possible to put that much baloney in one article. The simple fact is that if you don’t earn any money you can’t pay any taxes. You do remember the old saying “you can’t get blood out of a turnip” don’t you? There are reason, beyond just the Bush and other tax cuts, that has 47% of workers not paying income taxes but it still comes down to not earning enough money to reach the income tax threshold; a threshold that, through the years, moved up because of deductions in the tax code and adjustments for inflation. But while those inflation adjustments and deductions were being implemented wages were not increasing at the same rate for million of Americans. If you want more of the 47% to pay income taxes all you have to do is increase their wages and income. I read today that the minimum wage should be raised to at least $10.00 and hour just to be equal, after inflation, to what it was in 1986 but even that may not allow most to reach the threshold.
    So, it boils down to two things, lower the tax threshold or raise incomes. I like the raise incomes solution because it also increases the amount of money being paid in payroll taxes which helps Social Security and medicare.
    Forbes magazine recently showed that the 400 richest Americans increased their wealth by 13% or 221 billion dollars in just the last year. Suppose that 221 billion dollars went to middle class workers incomes, maybe some percentage, of the 47%, would have reached the tax threshold?

    1. phantomoftheopera September 24, 2012

      ah, but some of them (the no tax payers) made lots and lots of money, but know how to avoid taxes.

      i do agree with you about wages. when i taught i had families where both mom and dad worked, each working 2 or 3 jobs, but still qualified for free lunch. something is wrong there! (and for all you anti-immigrant people, they were all immigrants. our whites did nothing like that.)

      1. bobbreinig September 24, 2012

        so you must be talking about the 7%of millionaires that are not paying taxes,, or maybe the corporations ,if a working family doesn’t pay taxes its because they don’t make enough to be taxed ,, but to you they are so lucky to get to work 3 or 4 jobs to make ends meet , and they must be so rich now ,,but your reasoning is just false ,, if they were makeing that much money then were they legal or illegal immigrants

        1. phantomoftheopera September 24, 2012

          no, no, no i think it’s awful that, even with that many jobs, they STILL aren’t making enough to pay taxes! and romney has the gall to write them off as freeloaders on government!

          doubt if he calls the millionaires who avoid taxes freeloaders!

      2. anyasnote September 24, 2012

        Food for thought 4 U.
        My daughter’s neighbor and friends
        Both work earning $8.50 hr and 9.50 that $340.00 a week and $360.00 take 25% for taxes, SS, Medicare etc.both take home $2800.00 a mo bef.taxes, $2060, after taxes and they have 2 simple cell ph .no frills AT&T (no landline). $78.00 a mo 2 kids and one in day care – cost $700.00 a mo, utilities, ins. and 1 car payment’s almost $750.00, rent 1050.00 a mo, basic cable and no internet. Their expenses and all not breaking even but less , no money for food and clothing. He got a p/t job making (.00 hr and works 20/25 hrs a week It would be better for them to quit their jobs and go on welfare or move to a slumlord area. They opted to stay on their jobs, live in decent neighborhood and raise kids as good as possible. They are on Sect. 8, and Section 8 pay part of their rent (375.00 a mo) they pay the rest, one child have discounted meals at school. They shop at Goodwill and you would never tell these kids are poor. They are clean, smart, and their parents with them all the time, to make sure that they have the basics. The 3 yr old little girl got a doll for her birthday and a tricycle, she was so happy that she rode that bike until almost fell asleep on it and wanted to sleep with it. If he makes more then Sect.8 will cut off even the 5-10.00 extra. $5-10 bucks for one family is a lot, for R/R a freckle on their butt.
        They rent the house a small ranch and they keep it as it’s their own, never missed payment. So they are getting$ 375.00 a mo from the state coffers and R/R call them moochers. Some of you think they should pay more in taxes??They already paid their taxes through work, and hardly gets anything back because they don’t have a dancing horse to write off, they did not bankrupt anyone and profited from it, all they have is 2 kids and hardly get anything back. Their tax rate is much higher than R/R.
        I guess they are moochers, ripping off GOP of $375.00 a mo.
        It would be better if they just stay home and just produce babies and stay on welfare and stick it to taxpayers to a tune of $2060.00. + a mo. R/R math is a little fuzzy and so is the logic. By the way, Corporations and Oil Corp. are the biggest welfare/taxpayer dole recipients, they are the moochers. Get real. Most immigrants own little businesses and don’t mooch off government. look around.

        1. phantomoftheopera September 24, 2012

          oops. i guess i didn’t get my point stated very well.

          1st, some of the moochers are millionaires, but i bet r/r wouldn’t count them.

          2nd, some of the “moochers” are hard working families whose income doesn’t get them up to a level where they have to pay taxes. this is probably who r/r refer to. but, it’s wrong, wrong, wrong that companies don’t pay enough for families to live decent lives.

          i believe that government should support working families, old, infirm, disabled. it’s not mooching–it’s getting help that morally should be provided.

          on the other hand, for millionaires to not pay their fair share IS mooching. r/r are the moochers, as are many of their supporters.

          hope this clears up my thinking.

      3. Jim Murphy September 25, 2012

        Sounds like racist Phantasmagoria — How white of you —

        1. phantomoftheopera September 25, 2012

          i actually found my white parents harder to deal with than the immigrant ones–who wanted the best for their child. i just didn’t state my feelings adequately.

      4. Jim Murphy September 25, 2012

        Check out the Stats — Most recipients of food stamps identify themselves as White/non Hispanic

        If you taught English Composition and Social Science , no wonder why the wheels are coming off of our Civilization —

        1. phantomoftheopera September 25, 2012

          no, no, no. you actually agree with my point–the immigrants (who could be asian, you know) work harder than whites.

          you just misunderstood me.

    2. Jim Myers September 24, 2012

      So, Forbes magazine reported that the top 400 richest American families increased their wealth by 221 BILLION dollars in just the last year, and that amounted to an increase of 13%.

      Then that makes the net worth of the 400 richest American families something around ONE TRILLION, SEVEN HUNDRED BILLION dollars.

      Put in other words, those 400 families averaged about FOUR BILLION, TWO HUNDRED FIFTY MILLION DOLLARS of net worth each.


  2. Jim Murphy September 25, 2012

    Phanto – Stick to your prejudiced principals on Immigrants, because you only changed your tune when confronted with misinformation and bigotry !

    1. phantomoftheopera September 25, 2012

      no i didn’t change ‘my tune’. the misinformation and bigotry is coming from rich whites who want all the money to themselves. i have found immigrants to be hard working, honest, nice people. more so than the poor white families i’ve had to deal with.

      now, my question–jimmyboy. which side are you on?


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