Archive for August 6th, 2012

Givers vs. Takers

Some Republicans want to demean those who receive federal aid by labeling them “takers,” as if they didn’t work and struggle, but just snatched hard earned wealth from the “givers” — those middle class and wealthy people who supposedly deserve every cent the market will allow them to take.    There are many fallacies with such an argument, but what gets interesting is if you look at states.

In terms of federal funds, the following states are givers – states that pay more to the federal government than they receive in aid.   They are the ones that Republicans should be trying to defend:  NH, MA, NJ, DE, NY, MI, WI, IL, MN, CO, TX, CA, CO, NV, OR, and WA.

Note an interesting fact about these “giver” states?   Only one, Texas, is a so-called red state.   All the rest are blue states which pretty consistently vote Democratic.

The so called taker states include six “blue” states, 21 “red” states and seven “swing” states.  This should give pause to those on the right who mutter about “succession” if Obama gets re-elected.   They have more to lose than to gain by breaking with the largesse, er, “shackles” of the federal government.

But, red state Republicans might protest, this is too crude an analysis.   You can’t just label states “takers” without looking at the reasons, the nature of the programs, and whether or not that money is both needed and yields good results.   There are contextual factors in play which make a crude “giver vs. taker” label misguided in such a measure.


That’s true at the state level and at the individual level.   “Takers” include farmers receiving agricultural subsidies, so called “corporate welfare,” and individuals for a variety of reasons.     The class warfare rhetoric of ‘givers vs. takers’ breaks down when you actually look at where money goes.  Do they really want to demonize the retired WWII vet who receives VA health care in his waning years?

Are the elderly couples who paid social security taxes and now live month to month on their meager social security checks really easily dismissed as “takers?”   Perhaps raising a family they couldn’t put away investment money; worse, perhaps they thought they had a retirement nest egg but Wall Street shenanigans led to the dissolution of investments they were told were safe and AAA rated.

To be sure, the left’s caricature of Republicans is often just as demeaning – both sides may believe it, but most Americans have more in common than not

But the Wall Street financiers that sold them those products are the vaunted “job creators” with wealth, while the elderly couple now are “takers.”  Caveat empor.   They should have known that the experts in suits at the prestigious bank who explained how Moody’s ranks investments weren’t to be trusted.   Never mind that most of the banking industry and government experts didn’t realize what was going on, the small time investor should have known better.

That doesn’t mean social welfare programs can’t be criticized.   Just as extremely low tax rates on the super wealthy and corporate welfare can be seen as counter productive to the health of the country, social welfare programs that promote dependency ahead of opportunity should be criticized and reformed.   There can be real substantive discussions about taxes and spending.   There need to be – the world we’re entering is different from the world that we’ve left.   The crisis of 2008 was like an temporal exit, we’re in a new era.

So let’s ditch the class warfare rhetoric of “givers vs. takers.”  Cut out silly euphemisms like “job creators.”    For all the complaints about ‘class war’ the harshest rhetoric has come from the right.   When nearly half the country doesn’t make enough money to owe federal income taxes, they’re derided as being ‘takers.’   As they – most of them working class, many unemployed and desperately seeking work – struggle, some Republicans say that the lower middle class doesn’t have “skin in the game.”   Taxes should be raised on them, rather than the wealthy.   Some have suggested that if you don’t pay taxes you shouldn’t vote.

Such claims are obscene, yet they are out there.   I don’t think they are always motivated from a kind of malicious McScrooge Duck/Montgomery Burns thinking many on the left imagine it to be.   I think fear of the changes taking place in our culture and country cause many to be too easily pulled in by rhetoric that makes it seem like some group – liberals, “takers” etc. – are changing what it means to be American.   I believe many people got caught up in the attempt to connect free market economics and low taxes with freedom.   That connection was shown false with the 2008 economic breakdown, but ideologies are hard to let go of, even when the world changes.

Finally, none of this says that the Democrats are right and the Republicans wrong.   Rather, our conversation about the issues has gotten polarized in unhelpful rhetoric and mutual misunderstanding.   That won’t go away until after the election, too much money, too many attack ads on all sides, and too much emotion are in play.

I am the 1%. Smithers, release the hounds

But we have a debt to GDP ratio of 100%, created by both parties working together.   We have problems moving forward in developing a sustainable budget.   We have big issues concerning energy, global warming, security, and the environment.   In that we’re not givers vs. takers, we’re Americans who get something from being part of this country and give something back with our work and actions.

Don’t demonize the rich, don’t demonize the poor.  The rich aren’t all greedy jerks who don’t care about the plight of others, the poor are often hard working folk caught up in circumstances that make life rough.   The rich often give generously to charity and believe opportunity should be expanded, the poor aren’t all simply sitting at home having babies and getting checks.

The biggest gain we made as a country – as a civilization – is to move more people towards the middle class and starting to work against the historic gap between a small elite with wealth and a very large underclass who does most of the work and gets very little reward.  I think both sides can agree that a strong middle class is something to maintain, or perhaps regain.