An eye-popping headline and article appeared on The Atlantic’s site last week: Mitt Romney Would Pay 0.82 Percent in Taxes Under Paul Ryan’s Plan. The debate can be had as to whether this is accurate or not but it is irrelevant to this post and one thing is clear. The right typically supports the idea of this result. But a question should be asked based on the right’s position on welfare. Why should one method of receiving money while not working be commended while another be condemned?
I know what the first argument from conservatives would be: because the person making money off of capital gains earned the money they used to invest at some point and someone on welfare only sat on their behinds to get theirs from the government. Some individual instances can certainly be given of both but this leads to another question. Is the money always earned in the case of someone who is investing and making their earnings off of capital gains? The answer, of course, is no and anyone arguing the opposite of that should reassess their grip on reality.
I will not make a wild guess as to the percentage of people who inherit their money as opposed to starting from scratch and earning it but we can infer some assumptions from class mobility data. If it is highly likely someone would move from the top to the bottom of the economic ladder or vice versa, this would be unimportant. However, it’s not that likely according to studies done in recent years:
42 percent of American men raised in the bottom fifth of incomes stay there as adults…Meanwhile, just 8 percent of American men at the bottom rose to the top fifth…about 62 percent of Americans (male and female) raised in the top fifth of incomes stay in the top two-fifths…Similarly, 65 percent born in the bottom fifth stay in the bottom two-fifths.
This means a majority of people born near the top stay there and a majority of people born near the bottom also essentially stay put. So now we return to the original question: why should the right cheer one method of receiving money and abhor the other? Let’s take the question a step further. What’s the real difference between someone born to a billionaire who then earns their living off of capital gains through money received from their parents and someone born into poverty who eventually collects welfare? The answer is simply luck of the draw on something they can’t control: who their parents are.
If the right’s true problem with welfare was the idea that people receiving it were not trying to work and didn’t deserve it, their position on taxes should be far different. But it’s not and the reasons vary. In the past it was no doubt because of racism and some of that still exists. And now it is about combating big government. Whatever the reason, the hypocrisy is obvious and should be noted along with the irony, of course, that most of the folks on the right supporting this position are not rich enough to benefit from their tax beliefs and are only hurting themselves in the long run.