47%? 49%? 30%? 60%?

If you’re trying to make sense out of this constantly shifting debate about the supposed percentage of Americans who are “dependent,” check out this post by Mike Konczai at The Next New Deal .

In it, he explores where some of these numbers that are getting thrown around came from and what the people behind them are really trying to accomplish. 

“The right is splitting over whether or not the 47 percent argument is worth defending. It’s important to understand that, while it is true that 47 percent of households don’t pay a federal income tax, the distribution of the tax burden isn’t what the 47 percent theory is about. The 47 percent theory is all about grand political battles. My colleague Mark Schmitt has one examination of where this theory comes from hereBrian Beutler also investigates the background of the 47 percent meme, and Kevin Drum does a history of the EITC here.

Digging into different arguments, there are two distinct parts to a good 47 percent theory. The first is who creates and sustains the 47 percent as a political agent. This can’t be the bipartisan set of policymakers who wanted to do income support through work requirements as well as expand certain credits, particularly the child credit; it needs to be agents with specific, outside political goals. Those who pay little or no income tax are a coherent group that acts like a special interest or a class. Instead of the young and the old, as well as the working poor moving into and out of the EITC, this group of people is stable enough that it can act as a coherent political class, but it needs to be created and sustained. Who does it?”

John Schmitt’s post, which is referenced in the quote above (“The theory of the moocher class“), is also worth a look.


  1. Alex

    September 20, 2012 at 5:11 pm

    “A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations has been 200 years.”
    ? Alexis de Tocqueville
    All of the rhetoric about the percentages seems to be quite irrelevant to me. The real question is how to elevate folks in the bottom 50% to the point where they are no longer dependent on the government. We spend so much time and effort trading political barbs that we lose track of the fundamental questions. Neither side is addressing the fact there are significantly more “have nots” than “haves in this country. We have to look at more solutions than “tax the rich” which seems to promise an easy solution , but is ridiculous when you look at the overall numbers. The current monetary policies have made the poor poorer, the middle class poorer , and the wealthy richer so obviously that has not worked. What I would like as a taxpayer is a frank discussion of where we are, what it would take to correct it including entitlements, and a long range plan to get us out this mess. I haven’t heard this from either candidate.

  2. david esmay

    September 20, 2012 at 9:32 pm

    Here’s where you’re wrong again francesalexdoug, of Little Lord Mittleroy’s vaunted 47%, 60% of them don’t pay income taxes are working, and not recieving aid, yet they pay payroll taxes, SS and medicare. Another 22% don’t pay federal income tax because the are elderly and retired. Actually only 8% don’t pay federal income tax or payroll taxes because they are unemployed, students, or disabled Although the wealthy pay more in dollars, they pay less as a percentage of their income than the poor and middle class. Frankly I wish neo-cons would quit whining and repeating lies and discredited right-wing talking points. De Toqueville is irrelevant, the problem is not over taxation, tax levels are the lowest in eighty year, tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations do not create jobs, only expand income inequality and increase debt.

  3. Alex

    September 21, 2012 at 8:00 am

    I keep hearing the same argument about payroll and social security taxes, but here’s the problem. Those taxes are being paid exclusively for providing benefits to that person at a later date, and are not contributing to the other costs of government whatsoever. An even deeper problem however is the fact that these taxes are totally insufficient to the total amounts required when people receive these services. In fact, it’s estimated that every retiree creates a liability of $ 700,000 for these programs, way beyond what these folks pay in with taxes. Since these funds are not being held in a trust fund and invested over time, it’s exactly like the underfunded pensions that are killing local governments. When you add in the non-income taxpayers who will need the same services, it’s easy to see why folks call this nothing but a large ponzi scheme.

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