Romney's 47 Percent Line Is a Common GOP Trope, and it's Wrong*

As GOP strategist Patrick Ruffini tweeted last night, in the middle of Mitt Romney's secretly taped fundraising comments going viral, "The media probably didn't know that this 53/47 thing is common currency on the right." This dynamic explains a lot about both the media (and its outraged reaction to Romney's comments yesterday, today, and tomorrow), and about the right, which is used to making such claims without sanction.

For instance, as Ramesh Ponnuru points out in a Bloomberg View column entitled "The Right Is Wrong to Pin Obama’s Edge on Welfare State,"

[M]any conservatives have expressed worry that the growth in the percentage of Americans who pay no federal income tax will make the electorate more supportive of big government. Paul Ryan said as much after a speech at the Heritage Foundation last year: "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."

Or as Sen. Jim DeMint (R-South Carolina) told Nick Gillespie and I earlier this year,

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. 

Ponnuru and New York Times columnist David Brooks make the same sensible retort to this line of argument, namely that the biggest "takers" of federal government largesse are seniors, ergo Republicans. While it can–and should!–alarm true advocates of limited government that appetite for entitlements is a strongly bipartisan affair, posing an important political obstacle to necessary spending reform, the arbitrary distinction that Romney, Ryan, DeMint, et al are making involves the allegedly iron link between paying no federal income taxes and voting Democrat.

Perhaps the worst thing about this 53/47 analysis is how it infantilizes voters of all income levels.

Go back to Romney's full description:

There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax…[M]y job is is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.

This is economic determinism at its worst, going against the very message the Republican Party was trying to sell to the world during its quadrennial national convention last month. Over and over again, we heard speakers there talk about how their immigrant grandparents came to this country, worked hard, built "that," never asked for a handout, and as a result their descendants have enjoyed the American Dream of ever-upward mobility. What the 53/47 dividing line says, to the direct contrary, is that income status is a permanent political condition, defrocking all Americans of agency and independent thought.

Most people at some point will be part of the 47 percent (indeed, nearly most already are). When my friends and I were comparatively poor, as people often are in their 20s and early 30s, we (for the most part) didn't "believe" that we were "victims," didn't "believe the government has a responsibility" to care for us, and didn't vote for Democratic political candidates "no matter what." We mostly took personal responsibility and care for our lives, and acted according to our idiosyncratic individual values and whims.

I should theoretically be the target audience for this stuff. I never took out a federally guaranteed student loan, never enjoyed the mortgage-interest deduction; I worry all the time about government spending and entitlements, and I am not unfamiliar with the looter/moocher formulation. But this kind of reductionism does not reflect individualism (as David Brooks charges), it rejects individualism, by insisting that income tax is destiny. It judges U.S. residents not as humans but as productive (or unproductive) units. (Though as long as people are thinking that way, is there any category of resident less taker-y than illegal immigrants with fake Social Security cards who file income taxes?) And it prematurely valorizes one class of government-gobbling Americans while prematurely writing off another.

There are to my mind many more important things to consider in this presidential race than Mitt Romney's reductive parroting of plausible-but-wrong GOP tropes. But the reason this controversy will have legs is ultimately because many Republicans think Romney's comments were just fine. They are about to learn what the rest of the country thinks about that.

UPDATE: Nick Gillespie has a post above well worth reading.

* UPDATE 2: I see from the (mostly disagreeing) comments that my headline is being misunderstood. I'm not saying that the number 47 percent is wrong, but that the political description about the 47 percent is wrong.

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  • wareagle||

    it's wrong how? A large section of the country has no federal income tax liability. A large section wants its free shit. The current administration is all about increasing dependency. That's just true, regardless of what you think of Romney. But maybe the folks who got torqued about the "bitter clingers" line of '08 will be similarly put out this time around. But saying that the dependency class makes up a large portion of the Dem electorate is a bit like saying day follows night.

  • Stephdumas||

    Strangely that look very close to the rate we have in Quebec about the provincial tax liability.

  • Adam330||

    What's wrong is that the dependency class also makes up a large portion of the Republican electorate.

  • ZacJ||

    While that is true, Romney's concept is correct. There certainly are a lot of wealthy democrats as well as middle class and poor republicans. But the idea is very straight forward: when some people aren't footing the bill and Obama is calling for increasing spending those people have every incentive to support him. Certainly Romney is also going to increase spending but probably not at the same rate as Obama. The 53/47 concept is not meant to reflect the electorate itself but the incentives that are in place when so many people pay nothing but believe government can provide things.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    Payroll taxes are a secondary income tax system which captures more money from a majority of people than the primary income tax system does.

    It also assumes personal income stagnation.

  • Moogle||

    True dat.

    Articles like this can quibble over details and the actual numbers, but the basic concept is sadly true. Come here to California to see it in action. The state government is *openly* hostile at this point to anyone even remotely productive in life, but they win elections over and over because they have a bought and paid for voter base with low standards and expectations.

    The proposition on the November ballot raising taxes is leading in the polls. Are people just a mass of dumb shits? Well, yeah, they are, but the reason the prop is leading is that there is a mass of voters who thinks it won't affect them despite the fact that one tax increase is the sales tax. All they see is the "tax the rich" part of it.

    A lot of us are simply hoping state bankruptcy (whatever form it takes) comes sooner rather than later. Yeah, we're at the point where a complete crash and burn is the most plausible way out of this mess.

  • MonsieurOblong||

    As a Californian, I know very well that the 'rich coastal elites' are voting for, and subsequently paying for, the welfare to the poor parts of the state.

  • MonsieurOblong||

    Just because it's true in your area of the country doesn't mean it's true nationwide. Seriously. Why do you think the book "What's the matter with Kansas" even exists? The dependency class, by and large, votes Republican. While I believe that the bulk of the ultra-high-net-work individuals also vote Republican, it's well known that the greater number of upper-middle-income folks vote Democrat, against their personal financial interests.. just as the dependent class votes Republican, against THEIR own interests.

    It's simply a fallacy to think that the poor vote themselves benefits. You are incorrect.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Taking out the income tax line, isn't he right, though? Isn't true that political machines from the time of the Roman Republic on stay in power by hand outs to the lumpenproletariat, who are more than happy to exchange their support for the ability to not work and spend their days lounging around.

  • ||

    I think this is right... but as you said, you have to leave out that "47%" line. But Ryan's speech about becoming a nation of takers versus makers hits home much more powerfully than this one. Unfortunately, Mitt Romney's platform is that crony capitalism is okay because it "creates" jobs, except when the Democrats do it for green energy.

  • One man laughing||

    Yes. You'd think a libertarian wouldn't need to be told that.

  • Red Rocks Rockin||

    Yeah, there really wasn't anything particularly egregious about those statements. The limpouts coming from the left on it are particularly ironic given how much they praised Obama's "Julia" piece--which showed a woman who went through life completely dependent on government programs to survive.

  • ||

    While the metric 47% may be inaccurate, there does exist a large number of people accurately described in Mitt's rant. Stereotypes dont exist for no reason.

    I say this because nearly all of the obama supporters I talk to at length end up admitting inadvertantly that the reason they support the guy is that they expect him to give them free stuff.

    Captain zero's rhetoric about forcing the rich to pay their fair share, adjusting taxes upwards to reflect fairness, gobbledygoop about positive rights etc. sells well with that crowd. It truly is the politics of envy and is thoroughly evil.

    In a nutshell the argument I get every time is; People who have more than me should be forced to give me some and Obama is just the guy to make that happen.

    He might be oversimplifying, but Mitt is not far off the mark.

  • sasob||

    + a whole bunch.

  • MonsieurOblong||

    It really isn't. You simply couldn't be more wrong. I'm sorry that you live somewhere with such a dependency culture, but I live and work somewhere with high salaries and high costs of living, and pay taxes to support the dependent class in the broke-ass red states. Your comment clearly indicates that you have not read the many analysis that prove precisely why Romney has it *completely backwards*.

  • ||

    You should take that act on the road. Or hit the road, take your pick.

  • Romulus Augustus||

    We all know plenty of do-gooders who vote Democrat but don't subsist on entitlements and we all know GOP voters who take handouts "because they are only getting back some of the taxes they paid." This is just Romney's version of the class warfare crap that the Democrats run on with their "millionaires and billionaires" meme. It appears Romney is toast because the Republicans can't figure out how to effectively change his "Thurston Howell III" image and can't figure out how to blunt Obama's "nice guy" image. Though I have met a number of GOP insiders who are whistling through the graveyard, convincing themselves the polls are wrong because they sample too many Democrats.

  • ||

    Romney was toast for the simple fact of being Romney. The man stands for nothing, and to me it has been clear from the get-go that even though the Republican party "threw their weight behind" Romney, they were never in it to win it. He is John Kerry for 2012: put on a decent show, but they don't expect he will win. Then they are hoping they can come back that much stronger in 2016 (although most likely not with someone who will actually have a winning message).

  • wareagle||

    maybe you're right...then, let's just re-elect Obama and finish the job. From world's leading economy to banana republic in just 8 years. THAT's something for voters to be proud of.

  • Eric||

    "From world's leading economy to banana republic in just 8 years"

    8 years? Oh Right...After W's exemplary stewardship of the US economy, Obama drove it into a ditch. Take off your partisan blinders. Obama has simply doubled down on Bush's malfeasance.

  • Incredulous||

    "Obama has simply doubled down on Bush's malfeasance."

    Uhh... don't you see this as a problem and proof of wareagle's argument?

    Bush may have been bad but Obama is far far worse - an f'ing disaster.

  • Moogle||

    "Obama has simply doubled down on Bush's malfeasance."

    Oh, well, that's better then.

    http://i0.kym-cdn.com/entries/.....ie-pie.png

  • MonsieurOblong||

    If you really are that strongly pro-Bush and anti-Obama, Reason might not be the correct place for you. Redstate might be a bit more appropriate. It takes a lot of partisan delusion to believe in the black and white version that the Republicans are peddling (and the Democrats, for that matter).

  • The Walrus||

    Yeah, gotta disagree with you here. I hear you with regard to income mobility, but this was an accurate statement that needed to be said. Hopefully he will stand by it.

  • sagdds||

    Matt I usually find your articles to be on point, but not this one. Though your analysis of the numbers is correct we are dealing with people's perception of the truth. Most people feel they pay taxes, even if they get a complete refund and the earned income tax credit, so Mitt isn't talking to them. Most people unfortunately always think it is someone else's fault we are in the mess we are in. Both sides have their hand outs and that is the real problem. So when he says he is trying to reach 5-10% that haven't chosen which type of handout they want he is correct. For those of us who truly believe that government and it's spending is the real threat to our freedom are not fighting 47% we are fighting the 90% and that is the real story. This election is about what color, red or blue, you like, not policy because there is no real difference.

  • Old Johnnie Goggabie||

    So he called out a party of parasites for being... a party of parasites? So what?

  • d@racket.net||

    The problem is that he called out the *wrong* party. As pointed out in the article, it's predominantly GOP retirees who are the 47%

  • Masturbatin' Pete||

    "Romney's 47 Percent Line Is a Common GOP Trope, and It's Wrong"

    Okay. I saw the headline, clicked the link to the column, and read it, expecting to read why the claim that 47% of Americans have no federal income tax liability is false. I read the whole column, and here's what I learned:

    -Ramesh Ponnuru doesn't make the claim
    -But Jim "Creme" DeMint does.
    -Old people get entitlements
    -Old people tend to vote for Republicans
    -Some young people who are getting a free ride don't see themselves as victims.

    How do any of those show that what Romney said is wrong? Do fewer than 47% of Americans have no federal income tax liability? If Romney's statistics are right, then he's correct on the broad point: we've got a huge dependent class that will get angry if you try to take away their government cheese. That includes both welfare queens and "Get Government Out of My Medicare" conservatives.

  • Mo||

    It's about 46% that pay no net federal income tax. However, if you include payroll taxes, that goes down to 18%. Much of that is due to the Bush tax cuts (he increased the standard deduction and lowered the lowest tax rates, which means EITC cancels out taxes for more people) and increased child tax credits.

  • Masturbatin' Pete||

    Why would you include payroll taxes?

  • Mo||

    Because payroll taxes are still taxes that go to the federal government. They don't come close to covering eventual SS and Madicare costs.

  • Masturbatin' Pete||

    They don't come close to covering eventual SS and Madicare costs.

    ...and that's exactly the reason that you DON'T count them as "income taxes." They're premiums on future benefits. Ultimately they don't support the Treasury; they create a liability against it that's greater than the amount paid in.

  • Mo||

    They're not like premiums on future benefits though. It's not like they go into an account earmarked with your name. They go to pay for current federal spending, just like every other tax dollar.

  • Masturbatin' Pete||

    That's just an accounting dodge. Every dollar that you pay into Social Security and Medicare creates a future liability to you greater than that dollar. What the government spends the money on in the present is immaterial.

  • The Last American Hero||

    No - SS and Medicare taxes go towards current expenditures. The US Govt has no obligation to make good on their promises, and in fact, is unable to make good on these promises. The Supreme Court has ruled on this.

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    Anything that is a mandatory diversion of finances or assets to the government is a tax.

  • Calidissident||

    You are not entitled to SS and Medicare benefits. Courts have ruled on this

  • Masturbatin' Pete||

    I've discussed this at greater length below. Regardless of whether there's an enforceable legal obligation (whatever the hell that means) for the government to pay, the government promised to pay benefits in the future, and FICA payments were made with the understanding that the money would be there in the future, and that paying in to the system entitled you to that money.

    Two scenarios:

    (1) The government wishes to make good on its promises, and it pays retirees. In that case, those who paid into FICA are getting more than they put in. They're net drains on the system. They haven't supported the government. You can't call their payments "taxes."

    (2) The government defaults. "Thanks for the FICA payments, but you don't get anything." In that case I'll be happy to say that their FICA payments were taxes. But as long as the promise to pay is there, these people are not being "taxed" via FICA. Come talk to me when Uncle Sam defaults.

  • Charlotte Falcon||

    So those who pay are getting even greater free ride from it?

  • Masturbatin' Pete||

    Yeah, I don't get Mo's argument: FICA is a tax because it's not big enough to cover your future Social Security payments.

  • Mo||

    FICA is a tax because it pays for current government outlays. It's based on All taxes go to the same bucket. There is no SS or Medicare lockbox. FICA taxes aren't earmarked to future people and if the government cancels SS tomorrow, you're not getting a refund on your FICA taxes. It's accounting fiction.

    FICA was created by FDR to solidify ongoing support for SS. It creates the perception that "I paid for it, you'd better not get rid of it". And it's been successful beyond his wildest dreams.

  • Masturbatin' Pete||

    So my car insurance premium is a tax because it pays the rent at the insurance agency and my adjuster's salary?

  • Mo||

    Your car insurance premium pays for a service, car insurance. FICA taxes pay for the stuff on the federal budget ... just like income taxes. Do you exclude SS and Medicare from the federal budget?

  • Masturbatin' Pete||

    Do you exclude SS and Medicare from the federal budget?

    Not if you're honest. If you're going to include them, you include both sides of the ledger, and you do it on an accrual basis.

  • Masturbatin' Pete||

    FICA taxes aren't earmarked to future people and if the government cancels SS tomorrow, you're not getting a refund on your FICA taxes. It's accounting fiction.

    Yeah, and if my life insurance company goes belly-up I'm boned. The fact that I have a "policy" is an accounting fiction.

    Yeah, the government could decide not to pay benefits tomorrow. How does that change the fact that someone who pays less cash to the government than he takes from it later in life is a moocher?

  • Mo||

    You're moving the goal posts. I never said that they're not moochers, I said taxes are taxes are taxes. Whether it's called FICA or income tax is just marketing.

  • sasob||

    Yeah, and if my life insurance company goes belly-up I'm boned.

    You aren't forced by the government to buy a life insurance policy (well not yet anyway.) But you are forced to pay FICA or self-employment taxes, and they are taken right off the top of your total wages before any exemptions or standard deductions. Not only that, but they aren't deductible from the amount subject to regular income tax, so you are essentially being taxed on a tax.

    Whether you get back some of it someday as Social Security or Medicare is beside the point - it is still a tax. You might get back some of your regular tax as services someday, too, but that doesn't mean they aren't taxes. If the government is taking money from you and it isn't voluntary, it's a tax.

  • Masturbatin' Pete||

    If the government is taking money from you and it isn't voluntary, it's a tax.

    If you want to define "tax" as any coerced payment to the government, you're free to do so. But that doesn't address the issue at hand.

    The whole point of this discussion is that there's a large portion of the population (maybe not 47%, but still large) that's getting more from the government in the form of rivalrous, excludable goods than they ever paid in taxes. Those people are being conditioned to getting something for nothing, and they're not going to be interested in someone coming to take their government cheese or Monthly Tugboat away.

    The idea here is that income taxes are properly understood as paying for public goods that only the government can provide (or historically has provides), like infrastructure, prisons, the judiciary, and the Marine Corps. I think there's general consensus that everyone should have some skin in the game, and should pay for some portion of these public goods.

    When someone turns around and says "hey, I may not pay income tax, but I do pay FICA and Medicare taxes, so I'm not a freeloader," that doesn't work. They're not contributing to payment for public goods. They're paying for future tangible, rivalrous, and excludable benefits that they're going to receive down the road. Those aren't "taxes" in the sense that they're money that's used to make the basic machinery of government run.

  • Mo||

    And if I die tomorrow, the government wins because there's no payout despite the money going into the "account". If it was like a pension, my beneficiaries would get a payout.

  • R C Dean||

    However, if you include payroll taxes, that goes down to 18%.

    While payroll taxes are a form of income tax, everybody understands that a reference to "income taxes" is a reference to what you ower after you fill out your "income tax" return.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    Then everybody is an ass.

    Income taxes are taxes on your income and payroll taxes certainly qualify as that.

    And it's been a long standing libertarian meme that SS and medicare are bad deals for current tax payers so it's kind of ridiculous to flip that to they're deadbeats too.

  • Masturbatin' Pete||

    Social Security is a bad deal for high earners, who are the same people who already have income tax liability.

    It's a pretty good deal for low earners.

  • Proprietist||

    Payroll taxes are regressive. Since Social Security is not a lockbox but merely another income tax routed into the general fund, I adamantly disagree with upper limits on payroll contributions for the wealthy. Removing this cap one of many ways to help make these programs slightly more solvent.

    In that sense, I think Social Security should be a worse deal for high earners - but then perhaps that would increase the motivation to reform it.

  • sasob||

    It's a pretty good deal for low earners

    Only if they live long enough to collect sufficient benefits. Many do not. In fact, the whole system is predicated on the assumption that they won't.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    I'm guessing there will be plenty of dissent here to the thrust of this article.

  • wareagle||

    there is mostly dissent to what appears to be a talking point that is not backed by much evidence. One fact is that the Bush tax cuts reduced rates for all income levels, to the point that those at the lower rungs were absolved of any federal liability. It's doubtful they would be willing to start ponying up.

  • Nephi||

    Gee, I don't know whether to believe Matt Welch or my lying eyes.

  • One man laughing||

    This trope may very well be wrong, but with huge demonstrations here and abroad by people who believe that they're entitled to thing that they're not, regardless of whether there's money to give it to them or not, you could do better than to cite the evidence of your own life and those of your friends of yesteryear.

  • carol||

    If you think Dems aren't all about the "free" stuff you're nuts. I work in a union affiliated credit union and listen to this crap all day long. Hard core Dems think that everything from cradle to grave should be handed to them and paid for by "the rich". I've been told (more than once) that anyone making over 250K should be taxed 90 percent. Forty-seven percent of the population would vote for a hairless chihuahua if it promised to line their pockets.

  • sasob||

    Obama kinda resembles a hairless chihuahua, don't you think?

  • Jackand Ace||

    Well said, Matt.
    First, this is who Romney is...dismissive. He is the complete opposite of Reagan and Eisenhower. Not only did he dismiss all those who vote for Obama, but a large majority of Republicans as well. If one thinks that any person who has received a government benefit of any kind is one who "does not take personal responsibility," then he just dismissed most Americans by far. And paying income tax is the criteria? I am sure many Americans are wondering if Mitt himself did not pay any income tax in those years he is not willing to show tax returns, so he may in fact be speaking about himself.

    But secondly, and even more sadly, this is who the loudest barking dogs are in the Republican Party. They take their cue from something Rush Limbaugh has been harping about for years...when you are right, you don't compromise, and all Americans should see the light of day and come around to complete submission. Dismissive.

    This is a party so encapsulated that its nominee thinks he can say things like that and not alienate well over 50% of the population. You are right, Matt...47% is not the number...its much higher. And it might even include Mitt himself.

  • Red Rocks Rockin||

    Not only did he dismiss all those who vote for Obama, but a large majority of Republicans as well. If one thinks that any person who has received a government benefit of any kind is one who "does not take personal responsibility," then he just dismissed most Americans by far.

    Pointing out that Americans have turned into a large welfare class is not "dismissive," it's so accurate that leftists are freaking out about it for him calling it what it is.

    When you have 115 million full-time workers supporting around 110 million Social Security/Medicare/Medicaid recipients (and that doesn't even count normal welfare and EITC beneficiaries), all of whom feel entitled to the cheese because "they paid into it," then you have a perfect recipe for an unsustainable welfare system.

    I am sure many Americans are wondering if Mitt himself did not pay any income tax in those years he is not willing to show tax returns, so he may in fact be speaking about himself.

    Yeah, they're mostly Team Blue dickwads who think GIBS ME DAT is a sustainable fiscal policy.

  • sasob||

    When you have 115 million full-time workers supporting around 110 million Social Security/Medicare/Medicaid recipients

    You may not be aware of it, but even people who are collecting Social Security retirement benefits have to pay a percentage of those into Medicare. Not only that, but many people who collect benefits still have to work, and if they do they are still required to pay employment taxes.

  • Bill Dalasio||

    Simple question, Mr. Welch: We can debate and dissect the details of Mr. Romney's claim to our heart's content. But, are those dependent on government largesse reliable voters for sustaining that largesse? If so, youre entire article is quibbling with details.

  • some guy||

    I think his point is that BOTH major parties are supported by those dependent on government largesse. Romney seems to think that ONLY the Democrats are supported by these people.

    And if that isn't his point, then it should be.

  • Bill Dalasio||

    If so, the very thesis of his title is incorrect. The 47% line isn't wrong.

  • Loki||

    Wow. Talk about stealing defeat from the jaws of victory. Based on The Big 0's job performance this should have been the easiest election ever. Al Mitt had to do was not put his foot in his mouth or say something that can be spun by the media to make himself look like a douche, and he just couldn't do it.

    The main thrust of his point was correct. People who get free shit from the government are going to vote for the person who offers them more free shit. We can quibble about the numbers all day long, but it doesn't change human nature. However, it's just one of those things your not supposed to point out if you want to win an election. IOW, people don't tend to enjoy being called out as moochers, even if it happens to be true for many people.

  • Jackand Ace||

    Help me out here. Would you please define for me "free shit?"
    Does that include filing for bankruptcy, home mortgage deduction (as Matt seems to think), unemployment insurance, student loans, cashing Social Security checks, taking deductions for health costs, taking deductions for business expenses, taking deductions for business losses?

    I think the problem is that it is a moving target, and everyone would have different definitions for "free shit."

  • GW||

    Yes, and the definition generally goes like this:

    If I can take advantage of it, it's good policy. If someone else can take advantage of it, it's free shit at my expense.

  • Jackand Ace||

    Exactly.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    I agree Matt, the whole the 47% that don't pay income taxes are dangerous moochers meme is retarded. As you say, it's sloppy aggregation to assume that those people pay no taxes or that they are all taking some form of welfare.

    It's an especially idiotic position for libertarians to take.

    Many people that pay no net income taxes do in fact pay substantial payroll taxes, which is really nothing but a parallel income tax system. That is unless you believe that it really is a pension plan. The meme also ignores any and all excise, embedded corporate or capital gains taxes and all state and local taxes that those people pay.

    Furthermore, it assumes that all of the people paying no income taxes are clamoring for government benefits. That the people paying no income taxes in one year will never pay any income tax ever because there is no personal income mobility.

  • Masturbatin' Pete||

    Many people that pay no net income taxes do in fact pay substantial payroll taxes, which is really nothing but a parallel income tax system. That is unless you believe that it really is a pension plan.

    Why should we not treat it like a pension plan? That's the way it functions. The government isn't making money on the deal. Paying a dollar into Social Security or Medicare creates a liability to you. It's not a liability that's enforceable by law, but if we're going to be honest about federal accounting, those taxes come back to you.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    Not necessarily.

    They may come back to you, if the system remains viable and you don't die before your personal break even point. That's especially true when you consider that the 'employers contribution' is your money also.

  • Masturbatin' Pete||

    Yeah, and a meteor could crash into Earth and the United States would cease to exist.

    Whether or not the government is around to pay you in your dotage (and regardless of whether you survive to receive it), you have to take the government's liability to you into account when you're determining whether you're paying a tax or a premium. Sure the government could default. The ledger still shows a future payment owed to you.

    Unless of course you don't think the government has tens of trillions of dollars in future liabilities...

  • Bill Dalasio||

    Meh, not so sure. I've run the numbers and you wind up with a God-awfully poor return when you look at the numbers on a discounted cash-flow basis. The fact that you're forced at gunpoint to participate in a really sucky pension plan doesn't mean it's not a pension scheme.

  • R C Dean||

    The government isn't making money on the deal.

    They were until a few years ago, when they had an excess which they could, and did skim.

    Paying a dollar into Social Security or Medicare creates a liability to you.

    If its not enforcable by law, its not a liability in my book.

  • Masturbatin' Pete||

    They were making money on the deal on a short-term cash basis. The system was always in trouble using accrual-based accounting, which is what every responsible business uses. That's why there weren't any actual Clinton surpluses.

    If its not enforcable by law, its not a liability in my book.

    This is going to get a little abstract, but...

    At the end of the day, even a payment that's "enforceable by law" only does you any good if the money is there. You can't get blood from a stone. You and I could enter into an enforceable contract under which I have to pay you a million dollars every Tuesday for the rest of your life. if we did you could get a court to enforce that. You're not going to see that money, though, because I just don't have it, and I never will. Those GM bondholders were the beneficiaries of promises that were "enforceable by law" until, whoops, they weren't.

    The distinction between promises that are/aren't "enforceable by law" breaks down at the margins. When someone gives money to the government with the expectation that the government will attempt to pay it back eventually, and the current politicians have the intention of paying it back with interest, that's a liability, even if there's a way to weasel out of paying. There's ALWAYS a way to weasel out of paying.

  • GW||

    What it does tell you is that they don't have as much skin in the game as the rest of us paying income tax.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    And how many of those people care about the game in the first place.

  • burserker||

    you'll find out when the game ends and they are kicking down your door

  • Jackand Ace||

    "When they kick out your front door, how gonna come
    With your hands on your head...."

    Joe Strummer....RIP

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v.....re=related

  • Gadianton||

    From what I see in the clip, he's discussing campaign strategy. He conflates 2 groups of people: The 47% of the country that wouldn't vote for him if his campaign wrote them a check for a million dollars, and and the 47% of the country with no income tax liability. Both of these groups are there, but they are not congruent, and his phrasing doesn't differentiate between the two.

    When he says "[M]y job is is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives" he's talking about his job as a candidate for President, and he's 100% correct. His job as a candidate is to convince the people who haven't made up their minds who to vote for that he's their guy.

    Ultimately, I see this as having the same effect as President Obama's "bitter clingers" comment (made, ironically, in roughly the same environment -- closed door meeting with wealthy donors): The people who hated him before the comment won't vote for him.

  • Jackand Ace||

    Yes, I initially thought he was referring to the 47% who voted for Obama. It seems most think it is the 47% who pay no income tax...which may have included Mitt himself in the past, but certainly includes many Republicans right now.

    Regardless, its muddled, and dismissive. But I think you may in fact be wrong that it is not his job to convince that 47% to come around... Reagan never campaigned that way. But he will soon find out.

  • ||

    I agree. I'm not sure if he meant to say that the 47% who don't pay any income tax are the same 47% of will vote for Obama no matter what.
    I think he was speaking off the cuff and jumped from talking about one group to the other without paying a lot of attention to the disctinctions.

  • Ron||

    Even the republicans among those 47 percenter's will scream if you try to take anything away from them so Mitt is correct.

  • mepton||

    Matt, you missed the point.

    Firstly, context. This is about political strategy. Romney is clearly talking about who he can and cannot convince to vote for him, and his numbers are about that, not about who is actually giving vs taking.

    Secondly, determinism. Romney's focus is on philosophies that people choose for themselves. The key phrase is "who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it." That's not economic determinism; that's a statement of values and principle.

    Romney is saying that die hard Obama supporters propose a vision of government where it provides everything, and Romney can't really touch them. He's not offering a government that provides "you name it" so he simply won't be getting those votes.

    He might be a little off, but he's not so far off as to be proposing economic determinism or speaking about the effective breakdown of givers vs takers. He's speaking about what different groups want from their government, which is a far more rational thing.

  • Jackand Ace||

    "The key phrase is 'who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.'"

    And that is what is so galling to most. Do you really think that the 47% who voted for Obama believe they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing? That is not a little off, its way off. There are many Republicans who take advantage of government benefits. His definition of half of America (whatever he meant)is such a pin-heads eye view that is hard to believe it will not do much damage.

    Did any small business owners support Obama last time? How about Wall Street executives? How about middle class laborers? These are all people who propose a vision of government where it provides everything?

    Its clear Romney is not just speaking for himself.

  • Incredulous||

    It's not way off. It's an oversimplification. There ARE 47% of the population who will vote for Obama no matter what. O's record is beyond abysmal - yet he's leading in the polls. One major reason is his use of deficit spending to buy votes from the parasites. But the 47% (or maybe 49%) also include f'ing retards who aren't parasites but have a religious belief in bigger government which controls every aspect of our lives, people who have no f'ing clue about the importance of constitutionally limited government and individual freedoms.

  • ||

    Simple explanation:
    A) The are 47% who will vote for Obama no matter what. A lot of these people are entitled dependent victims.
    B) There are 47% who don't pay any income tax.

    The mistake is in thinking that A and B are the same 47%.

    Nevertheless, aside from conflating group A with B (perhaps unintentionally), Romney's basically right about the cutlure of dependency and entitlement.

  • Jackand Ace||

    So here is the question:
    Did some of those 47% once vote for Reagan? Did some of them once vote for Bush?
    I think so. Why dismiss them?

  • Proprietist||

    It really is an asinine idea. Those that do not make enough money to qualify for income taxes are not automatically welfare queens dependent upon the State because they're poor. And most of us here know full well that the 1% and the big corporations are likely the biggest welfare queens of all, with their subsidies, free protections, tax loopholes, private eminent domain, etc.

    It's also politically stupid to write off or mock "have nots", especially when you're preaching to a choir of "haves". Not that I care much about Romney's political fate.

  • jili5||

    Well said.

  • T o n y||

    My only question is how is Mitt Romney going to lose the election next week.

    The sad part is he probably was the safest candidate running in the primary.

  • The Last American Hero||

    So was John Kerry in 2004. If Dean had won the nomination, he would have handed Bush his ass in the general. Instead, the Dems in 04 nominated Bush Lite. Now it's TEAM RED's turn to nominate Obama Lite.

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    47% is wrong. As long as percentages are being estimated, I am going to counter with about 85%. Actually, probably 99% of people are entitled morons. This most definitely includes the entire "1%" who no doubt benefit from government graft, but also about 99% of "the 99%".

  • jili5||

    Romney says "These are people who pay no income tax", so surely he means himself too right? The hypocrisy from this guy is just astounding. Mitt Romney pays no income taxes!! I hope people realize this and I hope the media points this out. He even pays no payroll taxes as well!! He pays at 15% rate because he could afford lobbyists to put a carried interest loophole in the tax code for the work he does. The bricklayer, the engineer, the nurse, they can't afford a lobbyist to put a loophole in there for them. Romney is so full of crap it's infuriating.

  • burserker||

    so which is it, he pays no income tax or 15%?

    go back and check your team blue talking points

  • jili5||

    You don't seem to understand the tax code. Mitt Romney pays a 15% carried interest tax. He pays no income tax at all. Just as someone only paying payroll tax pays no income tax either. You need to learn a couple things about the tax code to form a coherent attack on someones statements.

  • sasob||

    Just as someone only paying payroll tax pays no income tax either. You need to learn a couple things about the tax code to form a coherent attack on someones statements.

    Payroll taxes are income taxes -as are the Alternative Minimum Tax, Capital Gains, Recapture taxes, penalties etc. Doesn't matter the various monickers stuck on them - they're all based on income one way or another.

    Can't speak for berserker, but myself, I've filed enough 1040 long forms over the years to know that the only line that counts is the one near the bottom of the last page that says, roughly, "amount you owe and to be paid with your return."

  • jili5||

    Payroll taxes are not part of the "income tax". When Romney and Republicans say 46% of people pay no income taxes, they are not talking about payroll taxes, and they're hoping you don't pick up on that slight of hand.

    The same holds true for capital gains, dividends, etc. Those aren't part of THE "income tax".

  • XM||

    If Warren Buffet paid as much income tax as your typical secretary, are their impact on the economy exactly the same?

    If Mitt Romney made most of his money on investment, took advantage of every tax loophole (available to all Americans) and moved most of his money to tax shelters, he sill would have created more wealth and contributed more on revenue than the "47%" hewas trying to convey to his audience - the folks with a sense of entitlement and dependent on government. The picture is too simple, but we get what he was getting at.

    I don't pay income taxes. But I'm not a hypocrite for pointing out to this "47%" since I'm coming from the position that the tax system is wrong, taxes should be cut for even the wealthy, and that welfare and pension should be reformed.

    Will Romney do all that, we don't know. Nothing wrong with what he said, we doubt he'll actually follow through.

  • jili5||

    The loopholes Romney took advantage of aren't available for all Americans, and he hired lobbyists to push for those loopholes. Believe me, if I could count my salary as carried interest then I sure as heck would, we all would, but Romney didn't lobby for our occupations to be taxed at that rate, he lobbied just for his.

  • ||

    Actually, they are. Instead of taking salary, start taking your compensation in long term dividends, capital gains, or carried interest, and VOILA! You r teh 1% No lobbyists or chicanery required.

    Protip: separate rates for long term cap gains and carried interest have existed since before Romney began his career in finance.

  • jili5||

    Well let me know how a bricklayer, engineer, or a secretary can have their salary called "carried interest". We'd all love to have this loophole that Romney gets.

  • d@racket.net||

    Clearly has no idea what the term "income tax" means.

  • Jackand Ace||

    It is called arrogance. While he not only pays at the reduced rate, he also hides money in overseas bank accounts simply to avoid paying even the reduced rate. But yet he will call out not only the elderly, but also those making under $20K.
    Sadly, we will not know if he paid no income tax, because like his money, he is hiding his tax returns.

  • jili5||

    He showed one year of his tax returns. Remember the media talked about him paying I think it was 13 or 14%. Granted that year he released was from around 5 years back. It's a bit strange that he released that year and not the others since then.

  • ||

    He actually released 2 years of tax returns. I believe the newest was '09. This is a meme that lives on only in the masturbatory fantasies of Democratic Underground basement dwellers. QED

  • sasob||

    he is hiding his tax returns.

    Yeah, so are Reid and Pelosi and many of the rest in congress.

    It's not that I think they didn't pay any taxes - it's just that I'd like to see what sort of sweetheart deals they've profited from due to various laws they've passed.

  • Jackand Ace||

    But there is a difference, albeit a subtle one. Congressmen and women are required to fill out financial disclosure forms, which they do. Most do not release tax returns, not just Pelosi and Reid. McLatchy said only 17 out of 535 did so.

    But as you know, the tradition for President is to release tax returns, as started by George Romney. Most Presidential candidates in recent history release them. You can elect not to, but you then stand out like a sore thumb. Particularly if you are the candidate calling for greater tax burden on lower income people, as well as the candidate utilizing offshore accounts. But hey, thats just me.

  • BC||

    Concern troll is quite concerned!

  • Rhino||

    Romney personally paid the lobbyists to get the carried interest loophole? I saw a Mother Jones article on this but it was all Bain since 2007 which Romney wasn't in charge of for many years. In fact, since the Obama video blaming Romney for a steelworker's wife's death, we know that Bain has since been run by an Obama bundler. So really, Obama's bundlers have been saving Romney millions.

  • d@racket.net||

    Thank you.

  • Rhino||

    This isn't just a problem on the right. The left likes to say that all Republicans are "either rich or stupid," while, according the the WSJ, the counties that are most reliably Republican are the lowest income. Obviously the most reliable voting blocks for Republicans aren't rich and i highly doubt that they are all stupid. Point being, both sides are wrong...again.

  • Moogle||

    Latest poll has Obama at 47%

    Yeah, yeah, I know, but it is sort of funny.

  • XM||

    I suppose the objection is that "it's true that 47% of Obama's fans are dependent on government, but just as many Republicans are also dependent".

    Reason writers went right after the DNC for promoting "fake freedoms" paid by other people and their sense of class warfare. Romney made a similar, more broader point. The left more readily subscribes to a bigger government that confers "Rights" unto people. The right has an imperfect vision of limited government where some populist entitlement spending is intact. But the line is still drawn.

    If only "independents" who make a career out of criticizing both parties are allowed to make an observation about either party or the state of dependency without earning snarks about double standards, we'll probably get little done.

  • snorkeldogg||

    Folks should see this new viral Obama video comparing words to actions - 830,000 cumulative youtube views in 2 weeks. Watch and share with friends: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o8R5GvwUFU8

  • ||

    "It judges U.S. residents not as humans but as productive (or unproductive) units."

    The larger point is that it's only human nature to want bigger government when you feel like you are a net beneficiary from it. Two wolves and a lamb and all that stuff. While personal situations are not stagnant, people can easily be convinced that politicians and handouts are the answer to their problems, and many have been convinced of that. That's why Romney's comments are not wrong,especially not the political description.

  • dinkster||

    Can Paul Ryan take the Republican ticket over now?

  • granite state destroyer||

    "Everyone" knows, or at least my Republican New Hampshire neighbors know, that by the "47%" Romney meant blacks, hispanics and white social workers. You can't disprove Romney's statement with facts and numbers because it's a dogwhistle to the base.

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