By Bill Black, the author of The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One and an associate professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Cross posted from New Economic Perspectives.
This Monday, I posted an article entitled: “Let’s test Romney’s claims about the 47% by offering the unemployed jobs.”
The article explained that Romney, Ryan, and Charles Murray claim that 47% of Americans receive governmental assistance because they are morally defective and shiftless. It goes through why Romney and Ryan know that they are lying when they use the 47% figure to slander Americans as refusing to “take personal responsibility and care for their lives” and as failing to pay taxes. The article points out the obvious – the vast majority of the 47% cannot work because they are (1) minor children, (2) the profoundly disabled and sick, and (3) the elderly. The article reminds readers that the disabled (except when they were profoundly disabled even as children) and the elderly had typically borne substantial federal, state, and local taxes, often for over forty years. Romney and Ryan cannot possibly be claiming that the members of these three groups refuse to take personal responsibility. (There is also the small fact that the elderly frequently vote for Republicans, so Romney and Ryan are slandering their own voters.)
The article explains the most despicable aspect of Romney and Ryan slander of the American people.
“[H]undreds of thousands of the 47% are ‘dependent upon government’ because they took ‘personal responsibility’ and cared for our lives at the risk of their lives and health. These are the veterans, police officers, and firefighters who were injured protecting the public, and the families of those who died protecting the public.”
The only group of Americans who could possibly fit the category of shiftless, moral defects is made up of the unemployed, underemployed, and those employed at or near the minimum wage – a wage so low that it sometimes makes them and their children eligible for Medicaid and food stamps. (Again, millions of Americans who fall in this category support Romney.) This group of people prompted my article’s primary point – we can and should test Romney’s slanderous dismissal of these Americans by adopting a jobs guarantee program. Romney, Ryan, and Charles Murray will fight desperately to prevent us from offering a jobs guarantee program because it would expose their slanders as baseless and destroy their dogmas. Millions of the unemployed and marginally employed would eagerly seek those jobs.
The article was posted Monday. Tuesday, Ryan said that the key answer to Romney and Ryan’s disdain for the 47% was jobs. As with Romney’s rant against the 47%, Ryan’s comments were in response to a supporter’s question that expressed actual disgust with and mock sympathy for anyone receiving government aid.
“‘Is there any way possible that this 47 percent can pay a nominal fee or something so that they feel that they have small ownership of the government and maybe they don’t take all the handouts?’ the voter asked.”
This insulting question gave Ryan the perfect opportunity to begin to undo the damage done by Romney’s slander about 47% of Americans. Instead, Ryan gave an answer that indicated how faux a wonk and how unserious he is. “I have an idea: Let’s help them get jobs so they can get good paychecks and then they’re good taxpayers.”
Ryan could have explained to the questioner why the question was premised on multiple factual errors. He could have explained that the overwhelming majority of the 47% currently bear the cost of taxes and many have done so for decades. Businesses may nominally pay a tax but economists have shown that they generally pass on the cost of the tax to the customer. The concept is known as “tax incidence.”
Ryan could have explained that bearing the cost of taxes has nothing to do with “hav[ing] ownership of government.” Ryan could have explained that governmental assistance is not a “handout” and that America would not be a better place if single mothers refused to accept food stamps and their children went hungry.
Ryan does not understand how subversive his response was to the questioner. His response exposed the lie at the heart of Romney’s slander of the 47%. Recall Romney’s statement:
“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.
That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax.
[M]y job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.””
There is a reason that Romney did not discuss jobs in his infamous rant against the 47%. If the 47% who are capable of working are not working because they are unemployed (which means they are looking unsuccessfully for a job) or are only marginally employed at such a low wage that they qualified for governmental assistance, then they (1) do bear the cost of many taxes and (2) they are seeking to take personal responsibility. Romney implicitly claimed that the 47% were all shiftless types receiving a handout while refusing to work or try to find a job. Romney describes the problem as having nothing to do with the Great Recession and high unemployment. He claims that the problem is that the freeloaders are so shiftless that Romney cannot “convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” Creating more jobs is useless because the problem is the ineradicably immoral defects of the 47%.
Ryan, however, admits that creating jobs with “good paychecks” is the key. The unemployed and marginally employed receive governmental assistance because they lack “good paychecks.” If the 47% had good jobs available to them they would become “good taxpayers.” By stressing the need to create more “good” jobs to reduce unemployment and marginal employment and take families out of poverty Ryan has inadvertently exposed the lies that lie at the core of Romney’s slander of 150 million Americans.
Ryan’s job response also exposes the insanity of Romney and Ryan’s economic policies. Why did Ryan vote to kill the revenue sharing portion of the stimulus bill that would have allowed hundreds of thousands of workers to keep their good jobs which made them “good taxpayers”? Why did Ryan vote to block the pending Jobs bill? Why do Romney and Ryan favor the Berlin-style austerity programs that have thrown the Eurozone back into recession and cost millions of Europeans their jobs? (Recall that Romney has twice admitted that austerity would force the U.S. back into recession.)
Ryan’s response requires us to ask: why do Romney and Ryan (and Obama) refuse to support the immediate creation of a jobs guarantee program so that everyone who wishes to work and is able to do so can work and pay additional taxes? Such a program would allow everyone capable of taking “personal responsibility” through employment to do so.
Romney and Ryan can never permit a federal jobs guarantee program to be adopted precisely because it would work so spectacularly well that it would discredit their core dogmas which hold that the poor and working class are poorer than the wealthy because they are their moral inferiors. This dogma of ineradicable inferiority explains Romney’s infamous dismissal of the 47%.
“[M]y job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
A jobs guarantee program would test the truth of Romney, Ryan, and Charles Murray’s claim that jobs are not the problem; the problem is that the lower classes are shiftless and need to be denounced as immoral by the elites. We know why Romney, Ryan and Murray can never allow that test, but why has Obama failed to support such a test? Obama has the perfect opportunity to demand that Romney put up or shut up on his demonization of 150 million Americans. All he has to do is point out Ryan’s response about the need to create jobs for the 47% with “good paychecks” and call Romney out on whether he is willing to support providing jobs to all those who are willing and able to work.