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47 Percent

September 26, 2012

Mitt Romney’s remarks on the 47 percent of American who of the country “who believe that they are victims” has dominated the news cycle since the video leaked, with some  pundits are claiming that the leaked comments are the death knell of the Romney campaign. Many on the left are quick to point out that many people receiving some form of government aid are retirees, students trying to pursue higher education, or veterans on disability, these people hardly resembling the less-than-charitable light Romney was trying to cast them in. But both Romney and his detractors miss the main point of the recent surge in government dependency.

 

It is certainly true that, as Romney claimed, 47 people paid no federal income tax, and equally troubling, 49 percent of Americans live in a household where somebody is dependent on federal assistance.

Romney claims these people  “are dependent upon government . . . believe the government has a responsibility to care for them . . . that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.” He views these ‘takers’ as a monolith, alike in their dependency and belief in the power of big government, but it does not necessarily follow that a retiree receiving Social Security benefits would believe in a bigger government role in promoting affordable housing, or that a veteran receiving disability payments would support a further surge in farming subsidies. It is not the case that should fifty percent plus one Americans receive some form of government aid, they will quickly move to take everything that in the makers vs. takers conflict he portrays. The danger is that on each of these myriad of policy issues, be it Social Security, student loans, agricultural subsidies, that the recent explosion in benefit amounts and number of recipients will tilt the balance in that particular policy, a result of the diffuse costs and concentrated benefits in each of these programs. A young farmer cares exponentially more about farm subsidies than he does about urban housing, he might not even support it. When Romney throws together everyone that receives government assistance into one block, he fails to recognize where the actual danger the recent surge in these government programs represents.

 

For each of these programs, as the concentrated benefits become greater, and the benefit rolls swell, the tipping point will be reached on a myriad of front. The interest, power and influence of these benefit groups will continue to increase in proportion to their ranks and the amount money at stake. Take the increase in spending and enrollment in SNAP, or food stamps. There remains a disagreement as to whether the effects of the recession are the primary driver of the growth of SNAP, or whether a loosening of eligibility requirements and increase in benefit generosity explain the surge in food stamp rolls over recent years; regardless of the cause, the swelling of the number of beneficiaries and the amount of money the program commands, mean that any attempts to change the program in the future to rein in costs will be met with entrenched resistance. This resistance will only grow stiffer as more beneficiaries are added to the rolls.

The fiscal health of America, already on life support due to the new normal of trillion dollar deficits and the mounting debt, will face death by a thousand cuts, as each of these interest groups passes a tipping point and becomes entrenched enough to resist any reasonable or necessary calls for reform. Demonizing aid recipients, or reducing them to some other, serves merely as an unnecessary and dangerous distraction from the real problem; whether its inevitable demographic changes as in Social Security, effects of the recession and increased benefit amounts like in SNAP, or whatever the cause, the problem is that fiscally responsible taxpayers will soon be overwhelmed on a multitude of fronts by disparate interest groups benefiting from different government programs just as their need to cut spending is the most dire. Rather than denigrate these people who receive government aid, Romney must make the case that specific programs must be reformed before their individual tipping points are reached, before the benefiting group in that policy issue is so numerous, and the benefits so generous, that they will overwhelm any attempt to make any changes. Romney, however inarticulately, may have stumbled onto something that can resonate.

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From → Politics

2 Comments
  1. For some, entitlements have become an addiction. It doesn’t require a great leap to assume many of those people will not vote against their supplier. The longer capable people remain out of work or attached to entitlements, the more their skills diminish and the likelihood of escaping the jaws of poverty shrink. Enjoyed your post.

    http://thegumption.wordpress.com/2012/07/24/poverty-skyrockets-government-addiction-to-blame/

  2. You are absolutely on target It is the tipping point at which we have to be concerned with and seem to rocketing towards. The word “entitlement” alone suggests those recipients are entitled to the benefit of others’ hard work. The increased numbers will soon discover they can vote themselves the contents of the treasury. Great post.

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