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March 18, 2013

'How Did Once-Respectable Conservative Economists Get Swept Up in Moocher Class Mania?'


Brad DeLong: reviews Nicholas Eberstadt's "A Nation of Takers":
... If there was a single moment when Mitt Romney lost the 2012 presidential election, it was in May when he stood in front of the $50,000-a-plate audience at Sun Capital honcho Marc Leder’s home in Boca Raton and spoke his soon-to-be-infamous words:
There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the President no matter what…. There are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government…who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they’re entitled to health care, to food, to housing, you name it…. These are people who pay no income tax…. My job is not to worry about those people—I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives…
This is what Mark Schmitt of the Roosevelt Institute calls “the theory of the moocher class.” And Romney is all in with it. ...
Those of us who know the numbers, or who simply live in America and look around, know that the 47 percent who aren’t paying federal income taxes this year are by and large not “moochers.” About a fifth are elderly retired. About two-thirds are in households with incomes of less than $20,000 a year—definitely not living high. And nearly one-third owe no income taxes because of the earned-income and child tax credits, which both became law with bipartisan support.
As a group, the 47 percent who pay no income taxes do not lack work ethic. They do take personal responsibility for their lives. They may not pay federal income taxes this year, but they pay plenty of sales, property, and payroll taxes. For the most part, they do not constitute the Democratic base. More than half of the 47 percent are the elderly white and Southern white voters who voted for Romney by substantial margins.
So how does someone like Romney, along with his peers and all their staffs and everyone else in that Boca Raton room, become convinced that 47 percent of Americans are the moochers, the takers, dependent on “free gifts” from the government, lacking work ethic, lacking personal responsibility?
Enter Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), with his contribution to the think tank’s “New Threats to Freedom” series. We need venture no further into A Nation of Takers than the bottom of the second page…
As I noted yesterday, conservatives are still blaming their loss in the presidential election on the idea that Democrats are "giving away free stuff" to their constituents. I think this passage highlights the mistake they are making:
The truth is that the American government spends much of its money transferring resources from some members of the broad middle class to others in the same class: unemployment insurance, Social Security, Medicare, and increasingly Medicaid (which every day shifts more from a program focused on the nonelderly poor to one spending a greater share on the disabled and on the elderly who can no longer make their Medicare co-payments). The recipients of these social-insurance benefits do not think of themselves as moochers. They paid into these systems. They believe that they earned those benefits—and in large part they did.
Eberstadt sees things differently...
The good thing -- for Democrats -- is that the more that conservatives are criticized over this, the more they seem to dig in their heels.

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