Tuesday, October 11, 2011

That 53% Tumblr

Liberals yesterday had some fun at the expense of the a new conservative site, the "We are the 53%" tumble, which in turn is a response to the popular "We are the 99 percent" site. Here's Brad DeLong, taking shots at site founder Erick Erickson, and Suzy Khimm made the excellent point that the main reason so many households don't pay income tax is because of Republican policies, from Reagan to George W. Bush.

All that is true, but the other story in the "53%" group is that I'm pretty confident that a substantial portion of them...don't actually pay income taxes, and therefore are not, in fact, part of the 53% of households who do. For example, this citizen claims to be a college senior working "30+ hours a week making just barely over minimum wage." Which is great and all, but if that's all he's got he's not paying any income tax. Just as a guess, I'd be surprised if any fewer than 10% of the posters are actually income-tax free, and I wouldn't be surprised if it's about 50/50.

What I'd be curious about is what some of these folks would say if they realized that they're not actually part of "the 53%." Of course, to be fair they all do pay taxes; they just -- perhaps -- don't pay income taxes.

Hey, reporters! As this "53%" thing grows as a conservative talking point, there's a serious article to be written involving interviews with folks who mistakenly believe that they're in the half of Americans who pay taxes (and, what's more, they may also mistakenly believe that they're in the group that does not receive any government benefits).


  1. That woud require reporters to actually learn someting, and then apply it. Come on JB. That ain't going to happen.

  2. my favorite thing about that conservative talking point is how big a disaster it would be (will be?) if Republicans ever try and turn it into policy. because then it's goes from "they pay no taxes!" to "we're going to raise your taxes!"

    which raises another important question: how is President Perry and the gang going to offset the massive 2013 corporate and millionaire tax cuts? So far all that any Republican has floated is to ax tax breaks that average people rely on, and to raise sales taxes. I wonder if the GOP policy people (assuming there are any) have started digging around for actual ideas involving real and not pretend numbers, and which aren't political suicide.

  3. Perhaps I'm confused about this, but aren't a sizable number of people who pay no income taxes retired? And therefore, Fox News' core demographic?

  4. It's just a mirror into how many people don't understand the tax/spending system. I suspect everything taken out of their paychecks feels like "income tax," including health-care premiums, retirement contributions, social security, etc.

    I'd love to ask these same people to draw a pie chart of federal expenditures, just the four or five biggest things would be okay. I've been asking friends to do that recently; most cannot even come close.

  5. Most Americans also never stop to think about how their own livelihoods are supported by other taxpayers. One of the first notes featured on the site is from a young man who states he now works at the state university he attended. Does it occur to him that his position is supported by both state and federal spending? Apparently not. If you work in high tech (an industry that is one of the biggest recipients of federal dollars), agriculture, defense (obviously), financial services, import/export, tourism, health care, energy, transportation, etc., etc., you work in an industry that is supported, in a myriad of ways, by the taxpayers. I worked in marketing for 30 years -- for regional and national clients in all the above industries and more -- and never worked for one client that wasn't the recipient of some kind of government subsidy, buying program, tax break (most often all three), etc.

  6. This republican talking point is part of their whole "plantation" idea--that Democrats just want to make everyone dependent on government. They don't want anyone to drill down and find out the reason for the statistics--no, you should just vote Republican!

    @TN, in the link above there's a pie chart showing the groups--elderly are 44%. Bingo.

    BTW, I think we should have a major reform of our tax code. I'm not among those who think we should just soak the rich.

  7. "I own a modest home" ... "I take NO GOVERNMENT ASSISTANCE OF ANY KIND"

    Not even the mortgage interest deduction?

  8. All reminds me of my raving tea-party brother in law, who works for federally funded research programs. Interesting thanksgiving when I rallied against wasteful govermental spending on scientists.

  9. Good luck with this dodge, lefties. ;-)

    But there ain't no escaping this one. (most of) The income tax non-payers are on your side of the political fence, and the payers are on the other side of that fence.

    And as Mr. Bertstein's point seems to be that the payers number even LESS than the 53% claimed, it seems he's reinforcing the payers' argument, and that argument's a bit more substantial than a "talking point" (although as we know, the Left's definition of "talking point" means anything that devastates a sacred leftist position, to which they have no legitimate response).

  10. Anon: legitimate response follows.

    We have a progressive tax system. Go ahead, poll on it, and you'll find that people like that. Therefore, poorer people are going to pay less than rich people.

    Payroll taxes are paid by everyone, including those who make an income low enough to not pay income taxes. Very, very few people distinguish between their income taxes and their payroll taxes. Very few people in that 47% THINK they're in that 47%, because it doesn't feel like it to them. (BTW, those taxes are, in fact, regressive, with the rich paying LESS as a share of their income than the poor, both because of shifting everything over to capital gains and because of income caps)

    JB's point is that a lot of the folks on this 53% website (and a lot of the folks supporting this meme of "poor people not paying enough income taxes") are, in fact, in the 47%. Not that the number is inaccurate, but that people's perceptions of which portion they are themselves a part of are fraught with errors.

    The "Left's" making fun of this is, in fact, very similar to the making fun of the Tea Party meme from 2009: "keep your damn government hands off my Medicare!" The argument is, inherently, fallacious. In this case, you have people who are, themselves, not paying income taxes, complaining about OTHER PEOPLE not paying income taxes. The hypocrisy is thick, and it is born out of ignorance.

  11. Correction: payroll taxes are paid by everyone who works. That, in and of itself, reduces the portion of adult, non-institutionalized people who could possibly be expected to pay taxes to 154,017,000 people, out of 240,071,000. In other words, 36% of people do not have a job. One would hope that conservatives would understand that folks without jobs don't pay income taxes.

    Now, I can't say that I know where the 53% number comes from, so whether that's 53% of 240 million or 53% of 154 million. If it's the former, then it's just a plain stupid statistic. But, as moderatepoli's link shows, even amongst those who DO make money but don't pay taxes, the reasons why they don't are mostly being old and having kids, tax breaks that the folks rallying behind this movement seem to like.

  12. JB,
    I'd appreciate a post about whether 'moderate' Senate Democrats are acting rationally in some sense by choosing not to support the Jobs Act. Some commentary, such as at TPM and the Plum Line, has asserted that they are acting foolishly, against their own self-interest as politicians seeking re-election. Is that so clear? Is there any political science that sheds light on this? Perhaps by their own self-understanding of where their interests lay, the senators are acting quite rationally? Can we be so sure that their chief interests are to be re-elected? Can we be so sure that they've misanalyzed their path to re-election? All these possibilities come to mind for me, but they haven't really been examined that closely in existing commentaries.

  13. Matt,

    It's 53% of all households, however the IRS defines that. So it doesn't include kids, for example.

    But yes, a large chunk of it is just that most retired people don't pay income taxes because they have little income, which presumably is something that the Ericksons of the world are actually perfectly fine with.

    I think some of the "53%" types support, contrary to GOP gospel up until a few months ago, that low-income working people should pay some sort of nominal income tax for essentially symbolic reasons; this may be because some of them honestly but mistakenly believe that low-income working people don't pay any taxes at all, or it may be an honest, informed position.

  14. MJ,

    That's not a legitimate response. The 53%ers point is still valid, no matter that you moved the goal post and now want to include payroll taxes. And evidently your point, as Mr. Bernstein's, is that the 53% club is even smaller than they're claiming. You further make the 53%ers point, in other words.

    I've provided you the courtesy of a response, but this will be my last post on this site, however, until Mr. Bernstein explains why it is one of my posts on a previous discussion has disappeared. I don't appreciate censorship, and there was nothing in that post to be censored, so I'll wait for the explanation that I'm sure is forthcoming.

  15. Anon,

    What point?

    This is pretty simple. 100% of Americans who work for money pay taxes. Some 53% of American households pay what are technically called income taxes. There's a large chunk of people who believe that they pay "income taxes", but in fact do not. Of that group, quite a few of them are upset because they believe that they are paying a tax that others do not pay, when in fact they are mistaken and it's the other way around.

    It's worth noting, too, that all the people who claim they receive no government benefits are mistaken, too.

    One can draw whatever policy implications one wants from all of this, but the facts are pretty straightforward.

  16. According to the latest Census stats I found, 13 percent of Americans are retired. 24 percent are under 18, are mostly students and don’t have a job, and even if they did, likely don’t make enough to pay income tax.

    The unemployment rate is, what, 9 percent? That adds up to 46 percent of Americans not paying income tax, which does not sound nefarious at all to anyone who has used five seconds of critical thinking skills about this stupid GOP talking point.

    Sure, Erick Son of Erick and you righties, run on taxing grandma's retirement and the kids' lunch money. That'll be a winner.

  17. Anon: that is not our point at all. Please reread.

    Not denying that the 53% is not 53%. However, making the point that a number of people who THINK they are in the 53% are ACTUALLY in the 47%. People's perceptions of their place are sometimes incorrect, NOT that the IRS (or whomever derived the 53% number) calculated it incorrectly.

    As for why your post disappeared, I would hardly blame Mr. Bernstein. I found that a ton of my posts just weren't happening when I made them in IE, and many other posters have noted that comments disappearing is a disturbingly common occurrence on blogspot-hosted sites. I can't speak to any particular occurrence, but I can say that many folks have found their comments dissappear, and that censorship is hardly the only possible reason.

  18. True but ultimately irrelevant to the 53-ers: they know that this is just Lee Atwater's ghost hard at work again. It's just far more polite nowadays to not say the n-word.

  19. I think Suzanne Mettler's work on the Submerged State applies here...people who say they benefit directly from specific social programs, but claim they don't benefit directly from "social programs" generally. This is the same concept, but applied to income taxes.

  20. That's a dodge, MJ.

    The 53%ers point is that they pay all the income taxes. Your response is that the 53% are actually even FEWER in number, and an even FEWER number of people pay all the income taxes in this country.

    You further make their point, in other words (and couple it with a bit of whining, apparently).

    And of course, it seems the lefties want to further decrease that number, and take even more income taxes from them.

  21. Anonymous - this has to drive you nuttier than you already are: A big percentage of that 99% pay income taxes too. The 99% are all but the richest 1%, which leaves 52% = 53%-1% in the 99%. Them's the facts, loser.

  22. Lol at the three conservative anon's repeating each other mindlessly and lacking basic reading comprehension.

    The key point isn't that the 53% is lower, but that the people who THINK they share some burden that others don't and claim they are poor and pay income tax while others do not, seem to be large mistaken. This is a point about people who say they work minimum wage and get no government benefits and shoulder a tax burden others weasel out of.

  23. Anonymous: "which raises another important question: how is President Perry and the gang going to offset the massive 2013 corporate and millionaire tax cuts? "

    By cutting social spending on the worst-off/least well-connected. Which will cover probably 10% of the cost of the tax cuts (not including massive defense spending increases and vast corporate pork handouts).

    Then they'll left the deficit explode, blaming it on Obama. There'll be some sort of economic surge (given several hundred billion in stimulus).

    Then when the GOP loses power, they'll demand vast spending cuts (not on themselves, of course). And concoct some sort of militia/Teabagger/birther movement claiming that the Democratic President is illegitimate.

    And the 'liberal media' will for the most part accept the GOP line as truth.

  24. Wow, 99% of what I read was BS. Fun fact: Most of the protesters are white and unemployed/underemployed (like myself). I get it, I'm vastly underemployed at the moment and have been for the past few years. I'm not complaining or blaming the current or previous president, the economy is cyclical and stuff happens. What I am doing is working at my current job while looking for something better and not sleeping in a tent hoping to be arrested so I can complain about that too. The first ammendment may give us the right to free speech but where does it give people the right to be complete idiots?
    Having Michael Moore speak for the 99% furthers my argument that they're not against greed, they just want attention. He has made extreme gains from events such as a school shooting and the collapse of the housing market. He capatalizes on things too, all while acting as if he's against capatalism.

    If you want to battle corporate greed, then stop buying iphones and starbucks, start a small business where you make something, but don't expand that business because it might grow and turn into a corporation. It would be terrible if you made a lot of money from hard work and lived comfortably and were able to pass that wealth along to your children/grandchildren.

  25. Michael Moore brought awareness to real issues. he is a great representative to the 99% because he cares about people other than himself. Just because he is wealthy does not mean he thinks it's ok for banks and corporations to flat out steal from people and get away with it. Not only get away with it, but then get bailed out when they come crying to the government. Seems the 1% aren't above taking government handouts. And maybe if everyone was healthy, well fed and making a decent living, the rest of the so called "53%" wouldn't have to work 3 or 4 shitty jobs just to get buy and feed their kids, who are receiving a crap education because the federal government continues to cut funding for schools. More money is put into the prison system than the education system every year. Is that the kind of country you really want to live in? Are you so blinded by the red, white and blue, baseball and apple pie that you have lost all common sense and any sympathy for other AMERICAN citizens?


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