Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Mr. Romney---please.

I want to stay as impartial as I can on this blog.  I want to stay at least a tiny bit above the messy political battle.  It must be fairly clear that I have opinions, and that in those opinions I am fairly liberal, but I want to give credit to both sides of every argument when I can.  By far the most visited post I have ever published is this one, in which the whole point is that it doesn’t matter which party holds power, either in the executive or the legislative branch, that what matters is what policy the party in power pursues, and how those policies---not parties---impact the world. 

But Mr. Romney, please.  Give me some opportunity to show your side.  Do you really mean to say that half of the people in this country see themselves as “victims”, that half the people pay no taxes and expect all of life’s problems to be solved for them by government?  That half of the people are parasites on the economy?  Really?  I find that almost impossible to believe of you.  I would find it entirely impossible, but this latest video reprises your running mate Paul Ryan’s interview with the McGiver Institute, in which he said:

“We risk hitting a tipping point in our society where we have more takers than makers in society, where we will have turned our safety net into a hammock that lulls able bodied people into lives of dependency and complacency.”

Takers and makers?  A tipping point, where there are more takers than makers?  Where there are more lazy dependents living off the wealthy than there are producers who create that wealth?

Just as a quick FYI, Mr. Romney: almost the whole of the population of the United States works hard for what they get in life.  And almost the whole of the population of the United States pays taxes.  They may not pay federal income taxes every year of their lives.  But they pay taxes; yes, even the old, students, and the very poor pay taxes.  They pay, for example, gas taxes every time they fill their cars to fuel their trip to work or to school every day.  But those three groups, the old and the poor and the students, are the “takers” you are talking about, the dependent people who are unable to “take responsibility” for their lives. 

But the old did take responsibility for their lives.  They created the world you inherited, Mr. Romney---yes, you did inherit, perhaps not the fortune you now hold but the whole cultural and technological world you see around you.  We all inherited that.  Those who are retired now created it for us.  And the young, the students, are studying hard so that for the remainder of their lives they can pay taxes and contribute to the world along with the rest of us.  And the poor, most of them anyway, are trying to rise out of that situation, working hard to get a grip on some low rung up the ladder.

Here’s a graph from this study:

I’m not the first to republish this.  I found it here.  But the graph is important, and deserves a wide audience. 

Notice the fraction of people who pay federal income taxes in their prime earning years?  Notice the fraction of people who pay federal income or payroll taxes?  Payroll taxes, which are 15.3% of income, a higher fraction of income than you paid in the one year of tax returns you have released?  And this graph doesn’t show who pays local taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, gas taxes.  Almost everyone pays taxes of some kind, Mr. Romney.  And almost everyone during their working years pays taxes at a higher rate than you do.  That’s not a criticism; you have a right to organize your income in whatever way minimizes your tax obligation.  I don’t blame you for that.  But I find it hard not to blame you for castigating those who pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes than you do as somehow being freeloaders in the system.

Here’s the truth, Mr. Romney.  This country, like most countries through all of history, is full of people who work hard.  Yes, there are slick players, con artists, who slide through life contributing little and take what they can: there are players like that at every income level.  I won’t bother to list all the high-roller financial scams we have seen in the last few years.   You know them better than I do.  But I will mention that one of the most widespread types of scam is scams against the elderly---scams by predators that live on the wealth of older people, many of whom fall into the category you dismiss so caustically, of those who "pay no income tax", because they are living on Social Security or on payments out of their IRAs.  There con artists and scammers, without doubt.  But we are not even close to a “tipping point” where they outnumber the rest of us.  Most people work long hours to get ahead, work to make their lives and the lives of their families better.

These people, the working population of this country, are not living as parasites on the wealth that you have created, Mr. Romney.  You are not Atlas, with the world balanced on your shoulders, and we don’t live in fear that you will shrug.  In fact it is at least arguable that the shoe is on the other foot.  It’s arguable that you are living on the wealth that they create.  If working people shrugged, if they stopped making all the things you use your wealth to buy, what would your wealth mean?  What would any wealth mean?

Please.  Show me that my understanding of your remarks is flawed, that you really didn’t mean to say that half of the population of our country are idle “takers”, that only the rich are producers.  Show me that you understand the contributions that ordinary people make, and how vast the wealth is that they create.

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