Mitt Romney's dismissal of the 47 percent of Americans who according to the Tax Foundation pay effectively no income tax could have been a useful piece of rhetoric for the Republican presidential candidate. Characteristically, Romney decided not to own the 47 percent claim but to try and squish his way out of it, and as a result his mouth has, once again, become a liability for him.
But this textbook Kinsley gaffe was a mitzvah for the 100 Percent. I don't know whether the comment cost Romney the election because I have never believed Romney could win. And as my able colleagues have ably noted, Romney's statement shows creepy economic determinism, distracts attention from the disastrous state of the union, ignores Republican entitlement growth, and invites welfare kings to scoff at welfare queens.
This last point is where the war of the 47 percent is a helpful exchange. Romney and Ryan have scrupulously avoided any actions that might actually help the U.S.A. get its fiscal house in order. Their plan to fight runaway spending while restoring Medicare "cuts" and increasing defense outlays is the worst kind of fake budget hawkishness.
But once the shock of Romney's comment wears off, the moocher/producer debate will continue. Allah Pundit notes that even non-income-taxpayers still pay other taxes, and it's not news that many people ignore their own status as net beneficiaries of public largesse when they denounce layabouts. But the shockingly broad class of people living at least in part on Uncle Sam's dime (it's a lot more than 47 percent when you count Social Security and Medicare) is something that needs to get more attention. We should be so lucky to have 53 percent of the population as net payers into the public kitty. If that were the case we might not be adding a trillion dollars to the debt every year.
The great economist Howard Jones reminds us that no-one is to blame for the cognitive dissonance around moocherism. In the last few years I had two elderly family members in their final six months of life run up medical expenses that I would estimate totaled around a million dollars. But I can't know the cost for sure because they never saw a bill for any of it (not even a zero-balance "You do not need to pay" statement). The taxpayers paid for all of it. To his credit, my late father did call me one afternoon to holler, "Old people haven't got a fucking thing to complain about." But if you never see an invoice, eventually you're going to stop thinking about, let alone worrying about, the cost.
The price of public generosity is massive and, at the individual level, largely hidden. Far from thinking of themselves as victims, most net recipients think they're the ones pushing the wagon. This is the misconception that needs to go away.
Whatever complaints you may have with the Tea Party, it's the first movement I'm aware of that had spending, not taxation, as its primary motivation. Through his unfortunate comments to a bunch of champagne- and caviar-swilling rich pigs, Mitt Romney has brought that argument back with a vengeance. That won't help Romney, but it might help America.