Tuesday, September 18, 2012

David Brooks analyzes Mitt Romney's hidden-camera comments

Brooks writes an insightful column on Romney's infamous comments:

Romney, who criticizes President Obama for dividing the nation, divided the nation into two groups: the makers and the moochers. Forty-seven percent of the country, he said, are people “who are dependent upon government, who believe they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to take care of them, who believe they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.”

This comment suggests a few things. First, it suggests that he really doesn’t know much about the country he inhabits. Who are these freeloaders? Is it the Iraq war veteran who goes to the V.A.? Is it the student getting a loan to go to college? Is it the retiree on Social Security or Medicare?

It suggests that Romney doesn’t know much about the culture of America. Yes, the entitlement state has expanded, but America remains one of the hardest-working nations on earth. Americans work longer hours than just about anyone else. Americans believe in work more than almost any other people. Ninety-two percent say that hard work is the key to success, according to a 2009 Pew Research Survey.

It says that Romney doesn’t know much about the political culture. Americans haven’t become childlike worshipers of big government. On the contrary, trust in government has declined. The number of people who think government spending promotes social mobility has fallen.

The people who receive the disproportionate share of government spending are not big-government lovers. They are Republicans. They are senior citizens. They are white men with high school degrees. As Bill Galston of the Brookings Institution has noted, the people who have benefited from the entitlements explosion are middle-class workers, more so than the dependent poor. . . .

The final thing the comment suggests is that Romney knows nothing about ambition and motivation. The formula he sketches is this: People who are forced to make it on their own have drive. People who receive benefits have dependency.

But, of course, no middle-class parent acts as if this is true. Middle-class parents don’t deprive their children of benefits so they can learn to struggle on their own. They shower benefits on their children to give them more opportunities — so they can play sports, go on foreign trips and develop more skills.
I agree with most of that. But Brooks's line of reasoning about parents and children, though clever, is also potentially dangerous. Adults aren't children. And the government isn't — or, shouldn't be — our parents.

By the way, who are the 47% of people Romney referred to as not paying income taxes? Here are a few charts with the answer. As you can see from that link, Romney is about right if you're looking at federal income taxes paid in 2011: 46.4% of households didn't pay them. But most of those households (28.3%) paid payroll taxes instead. Among the remaining 18.1%, most of them (10.3% of the total) were elderly, and almost all of the younger ones (6.9%) made less than $20,000 a year. It's fine for Romney and others to make the case that more of them should pay higher taxes. But let's be clear about who we're talking about.


LemmusLemmus said...

Whoa Nelly! Three comments:

1. Morals: It might be argued that it is immoral to film a person secretly and put the film online, period. Or it could be said that that argument is moot if someone is asking to be given incredible powers. I think I lean towards the second view, but would classify the first as reasonable.

2. Emprical/analytical: If I understand Romney's reasoning correctly, not paying income taxes is a necessary and sufficient condition for being firmly in the Democrats' camp. It is hard to exaggerate how wrong this is. As Brooks points out, many of them vote Republican. Perhaps more importantly, many of these people don't vote at all - even I know that the poor are strongly overrepresented among nonvoters in the U.S., and I'm not exactly an expert on U.S. politics. Furthermore, there are many card-carrying, tax-paying Democrats, obviously. Assuming Romney's comments represent what he believes, they suggest his analytical skills are not up to the task of being head of state.

3. Prediction: Right now, governments around the world are getting ready to deal with Obama for four more years, and they're right.

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