I have been saying for literally years that the reason today’s Republican party doesn’t make any sense on economic issues is that the current generation has mistaken party propaganda for economic wisdom. Brad DeLong agrees with me:
What Mitt Romney has just said is that 47% of Americans pay no taxes, subsist off of government benefits, take no responsibility for their lives, are moochers, and make up a solid Democratic Party base. He has just said that he cannot worry about them for two reasons: (i) they will never vote for him, and (i) they will never straighten up and fly right.
Now Romney was never supposed to say or think this.
Romney was–along with those at the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere who made up the “lucky duckies” meme–supposed to know that it was not true. It was supposed to be what the writers at the WSJ call “boob bait for the bubbas”: misinformation that has two purposes: (i) to get some low-information voters to open their wallets to Republican candidates; and (ii) to confuse others, so that they will vote for Republican politicians who will cut programs they rely on for their place in the middle-class, and use the money to fund more tax cuts for the rich.
We know this because of the care with which the 47% talking point was constructed:
Last year 47% of tax units paid no net federal income taxes.
Low-information voters are supposed to hear this and process it as “47% pay no taxes” and conclude “they–not me–are moochers!”
Republican operatives and candidates are supposed to know that almost every word in “last year 47% of tax units paid no net federal income taxes” is necessary for the deception. “Last year” because right now the share of taxpayers is far below normal because of the lesser depression–and that is a good thing. “Tax units” because we are talking not about a share of Americans but rather of pieces of paper flowing through the IRS. “Federal” because lots of people pay state and local taxes. “Income” because lots of people pay payroll taxes. “Net” because for historical reasons we channel our Child and Earned Income Tax Credits–programs loved by, among others, Ronald Reagan–through the IRS rather than through HHS.
Omit any of those words, and the 47% figure becomes a lie.
And in the form that it was intended to be received–as “47% pay no taxes, the moochers!” it is a lie.
I am thinking that Romney and his speechwriters have spent much, much, much too much time at the American Enterprise Institute where, the General Theory of Moocherhood, as Mark Schmitt puts it, is being developed.
There should have been people to deprogram Mitt Romney when he began to fall victim to this AEI cult. Wall Street Journal editorialists should have warned him not to confuse the “prolefeed” they distribute with the way the world actually works. Economic advisors like Eddie Lazear ought to have straightened him out about the state of the labor market, while Harvey Rosen and Greg Mankiw ought to have convinced him that you would not expect Social Security recipients to pay income taxes. Somebody should have told Mitt Romney that roughly half of those who are currently paying no income taxes will vote for him in November.
Does Romney spend so little time talking to real policy advisors that these issues never came up?
Whatever: in this case one of the con artists has managed to get himself conned.