Mitt Romney has a short op-ed in USA Today expanding on his surreptitiously videotaped remarks about the "47 percent." From the op-ed: "Under President Obama, we have a stagnant economy that fosters government dependency. My policies will create a growing economy that fosters upward mobility."
Many others have made points similar to the ones Mr. Romney is being attacked for. The governor of Indiana, Mitch Daniels, in his book Keeping the Republic, writes, "A growing near-majority of citizens is now dependent on government for a substantial percentage of their livelihood. Increasingly, the burdens of a growing public sector are paid for by a dwindling percentage of the population. It is now reaching the point where society's ability to generate new wealth is being threatened and the non-payers have nothing to lose by demanding still more from their richer neighbors."
Senator DeMint of South Carolina, in his book Saving Freedom: We Can Stop America's Slide Into Socialism, writes, "more than 50% of Americans now receive a significant portion of their income from government programs...Nearly a third of all American pay no federal income taxes…The larger the number of dependent voters grows and the fewer who pay taxes, the less likely politicians will have the political courage to stop the growth of dependency-creating programs."
In a column I wrote the week before the Romney comments were made public, I wrote of an "explanation...I hope is not true, but that lurks as a fear in the minds of many of those dismayed by the polls":
the "takers" have started to outnumber, and outvote, the "makers." Add together the 46.7 million Americans on food stamps, the 8.7 million Americans receiving Pell Grants, the 7.6 million unionized government employees, and weigh them against the top 5% of income earners, the roughly 7 million taxpayers making more than about $154,000 a year, who earn about 32% of the adjusted gross income and pay about 59% of the nation's individual income taxes. We have all kinds of systems and laws in America for protecting the rights of unpopular minorities, but no one has quite figured out how to prevent an election from devolving into "four wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch."
If the furor over Mr. Romney's remarks has any useful value it is as a reminder that people may be "makers" or "takers" over different points of their lives, or even simultaneously, and that the distinction, like many distinctions, isn't always as clear-cut as it may initially seem. Even so, and even as someone who has been critical of Mr. Romney, it's striking to me how vehement the reaction has been to his remarks. President Obama talks about "fat cat bankers on Wall Street," but when Mr. Romney says something about government dependency, all of a sudden it's Mr. Romney who is the polarizing one? Instead of lambasting Mr. Romney for his supposed insensitivity, what about addressing the underlying issue, this kind of public-choice-theory problem of people getting things they haven't paid for voting to increase their free stuff by raising taxes on other people?