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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


3. The Hammock. During the Q&A part of this 2011 Paul Ryan speech at Heritage (19m35s), Ryan noted:

I think it’s 49 percent of people who don’t pay taxes today, though there are other taxes. Here’s the danger I think we have. We’re coming close to a tipping point in America where we might have a net majority of takers versus makers in society and that could become very dangerous if it sets in as a permanent condition. Because what we’ll end up doing is we will convert our safety net system – which is necessary I believe, to help people who can’t help themselves, to help people who are down on their luck get back on their feet – we could turn that into a hammock that ends up lulling people into lives of dependency and complacency, which drains them of the incentives and the will to make the most of their lives.

Who? The do-gooders who created the social safety net.  It’s too generous, too unconditional and not tied enough to work. In a practical way, it is the safety net itself that is creating this condition. Rather than the correct interpretation that people who are not paying taxes are receiving income support that requires work or various, purposely chosen tax credits, this indicts everything from health care to unemployment insurance (which, by definition, you needed to have worked to receive). This is a smart approach, because while going after the “30 percent” isn’t really a political platform, dramatically reducing the social safety net is.

Consequences? It’s not clear what “complacency” means in this condition, but dependency means that more and more income will come from the government. As this happens, their ability to take personal responsibility will fall apart. People will be beyond the ability to help themselves, hypnotized as they are by the siren’s call of the welfare state. This is why Romney can say “I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

4. Takers and Public Choice:

From Reason Magazine a while ago:

DeMint: Almost half of Americans are getting something from government, and the other half are paying for it. And we’re on a track where 60 percent are getting something from government and 40 percent are paying for it. You can’t sustain a democracy with that mix.

Reason: Because the 60 percent is going to be voting a bigger and bigger share of the 40 percent’s money?

DeMint: It’s hard to win elections when you’re talking about limited government if the constituents want more from government. You see that phenomenon on display in Greece. When the country is going down in flames, there are still people in the street, demonstrating for more government benefits. We’ve got to understand we’re in trouble, that we don’t have much time.

Or this from Steve Doocey on Fox and Friends: “Coming up! A controversial question. With 47% of Americans not paying taxes – 47% – should those who don’t pay be allowed to vote?”

Who? The 47 percent themselves. As predicted by Public Choice theory, those at the bottom half of the income scale vote into office people willing to take from the top half of the income scale. Since the average is above the median in income, there’s always redistribution from the average to the median to be done. Here the intellectuals of the 30 percent, or the welfare state, or GOP strategy are all secondary; the ravages of democracy are the culprit.

Consequences? The system eventually collapses into itself, as those at the margin work less and also join in demanding more. DeMint alludes to Greece, where the collapse of the government seems almost to be part of the plan to then take over the state, which is consistent with the right’s conspiracy theory of the Cloward-Piven strategy. But this focus on stop-gating the median voter allows for Romney to think “What I have to do is convince the 5 to 10 percent in the center that are independents.”
Presumably there are more. What else is missing?

Cross-posted from Rortybomb

Mike Konczal is a fellow with the Roosevelt Institute


  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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