## By No Means a Nation of "Takers"...

The largest contributor to Mitt Romney's defeat was his claim that 47% of America were "moochers"--who paid no income taxes, voted for the Democratic Party that promised to keep their benefits flowing, lacked any work-ethic or self-discipline, and thus, in Romney's view, "my job is is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."

Merrill Goozner writes about how that American Enterprise Institute brainwashed Romney into believing this--perhaps the first time in history that a think tank has played such a prominent and important role in destroying the electability of the candidate it prefers.

Merrill Goozner:

October 3, 2012: At some point in tonight’s debate, Republican candidate Mitt Romney will be asked about his views on the 47 percent – the beneficiaries of government programs he dismissed as potential supporters during a private talk to wealthy campaign donors during the spring primary season.... [H]e will probably... defend the basic belief behind the comments: that America cannot thrive if it continues down the path toward becoming an “entitlement society,” where a growing share of the population depends on government largesse. That viewpoint springs from the deepest wells of contemporary Republican thought. The intellectual spadework was conducted by scholars at the American Enterprise Institute, where demographer Nicholas Eberstadt’s new book “A Nation of Takers: America’s Entitlement Epidemic” will soon be released....

Eberstadt laid out what appeared to be a damning set of statistics. Since 1960, transfer payments to individuals have grown from one-third to two-thirds of all federal government spending. It is crowding out investments in defense, infrastructure and research. On a per person basis, entitlement spending has leaped 700 percent with the average annual burden for every man, woman and child in America now at $7,200, he said. Eberstadt dismissed analysts who argue the trend has been driven by the aging of society, which naturally increases Social Security and Medicare spending. He pointed out that 35 percent of U.S. households now get some form of direct assistance compared to half that number in the 1980s. “Americans are not twice as poor as they were in the Reagan era,” he said. “There has been a change in mentality, the American declaration of dependence.” He blamed the declining share of men in the workforce on an overly generous disability system. And, in lamenting the fact that nearly half of the nation’s children receive some form of assistance, he wondered, “Is this a gateway or a habituation for the future?” There was at least one obvious shortcoming in Eberstadt’s analysis. By choosing 1960 as his starting point, he sets his baseline before the creation of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965... those two programs this year will consume nearly 36 percent of the$2.6 trillion in federal transfer payments to individuals. That’s 5.4 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), up from 1.6 percent of GDP in the mid-1970s.... It was near zero in 1960. Over those same 36 years, all payments to individuals... went from 10.4 percent to 15.2 of GDP.  In other words, since the mid-1970s, spending on health care programs accounted for nearly 80 percent of the entire increase in entitlement spending....

The U.S. now spends over 17 percent of GDP on health care... 50 percent more than any other country when measured as a share of GDP....

Anrig also pointed out that the government’s assumption of most health care spending for seniors had a major impact on their well-being. In 1959 – the year before Eberstadt’s benchmark – elderly poverty in the U.S. was 35 percent. Today, it is 10 percent....

[T]here’s not much evidence... to suggest the “welfare state” has grown more generous over the years. Total spending on public assistance and unemployment insurance will total 1.7 percent of GDP in 2012, no different than what it was in 1976.... Spending on food and nutrition assistance programs... is still less than one percent of GDP....

And Mark Schmitt:

The Theory of the Moocher Class | Next New Deal: The Theory of the Moocher Class:** itt Romney's remarks describing 47 percent of the population as, in effect, moochers who would vote for Obama because they got government benefits were not “off the cuff,” as he described them today. There is a carefully developed theory behind his words, which has seen expression in previous Romney speeches, such as one last December in which he described Obama's vision as an “entitlement society” in which “everyone receives the same rewards,” but in which “we'll all be poor.”

The lab where this theory that we're headed toward a radical egalitarian state is being developed is the American Enterprise Institute... [which] much like Romney has forsaken the traditional business-minded conservatism... for hard conservatism in which everything is a grand showdown of incompatible worldviews.... [T]he current AEI president, Arthur Brooks (The Battle and The Road to Freedom)... Nicholas Eberstadt... “A Nation of Takers.”

AEI invited me to participate on a panel with Eberstadt... [I] had to cancel due to a conflict....

“A Nation of Takers” shows in some detail the expansion of government benefits since the 1960s and the share of the population they reach. The data is not wrong, but it's selective, and the story that Eberstadt has wrapped around them – that receipt of benefits makes people “dependents,” that people are becoming “chiselers,” choosing to maximize benefits, that the expansion of entitlements was a political effort by the left that slowly overcame “resistance” from real Americans -- is highly tendentious.... There is a story implied in the very word, “takers”... while you can't pull a wagon and ride in it at the same time, you can certainly be a taker and a giver at the same time, or at different times in life.... Eberstadt's charts show that the government benefit that grew fastest in recent years, not surprisingly in a recession, is Unemployment Insurance. Everyone who receives benefits from Unemployment Insurance, without exception, has worked... and paid into the system.... And they will (they desperately hope) work again and pay even more....

[T]he big story is the extension of the social safety net from the very, very poor to the lower rungs of the working poor, particularly through expansion of Medicaid and tax credits for working families... smoothing the path into the workforce and toward self-sufficiency. Medicaid eligibility was delinked from welfare and linked instead to income.... [W]e have created a safety net that extends well into the low-income working population. These individuals, too, are both takers and givers – they are working hard, contributing to the economy, and while some of them may not pay federal income taxes at the moment, they will as they move up.

This dramatic reorientation of the safety net didn't just happen; most of these initiatives had significant bipartisan and cross-ideological support.... Conservatives used to argue, for example, that raising the EITC was a better alternative to raising the minimum wage, and they mostly won that fight.... Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney and others in the current wave of conservatism seem to have entirely forgotten the merits of these innovations, and in their promise to protect programs only for the very, very poor, they threaten to restore the hopeless poverty traps of the 1970s and 1980s....

Suzanne Mettler of Cornell looked at data asking people whether they had ever benefited from a government social program. While most participants in the classic, older transfer programs were aware that they had benefited from programs, most of the newer programs, especially those delivered through the tax code, were invisible to a majority of their beneficiaries. (Even 45 percent of Social Security recipients said they had never used a government program, which may reflect the belief that they are receiving benefits they've paid for.)...

t's disappointing that Romney shows no interest in either drawing out the submerged state or in the bipartisan project (of which his health reform in Massachusetts was a part) of smoothing the path to economic success for families. Instead, he just sees half the country as people who can't be convinced “that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” That's a very strange view of this country and a tragic development in modern conservatism.