Fisking Ferguson III

Andrew Sullivan —  Aug 21 2012 @ 11:47am

A reader writes:

One statement that stuck out to me as particularly dishonest and hyperbolic was the notion that we are becoming a nation where only half of us pay the taxes while the other half receive the benefits:

We are becoming the 50–50 nation—half of us paying the taxes, the other half receiving the benefits.

The way Ferguson sets this up is a gross distortion on both taxation and spending and is meaningless as anything but a rhetorical device to play on the contempt that many Americans feel towards people who receive government assistance.

On the taxation side, if Ferguson was being honest with readers, he would have at least mentioned that the taxes he uses to make his point are federal income taxes – a point that Ramesh Ponnuru makes refreshingly clear in his NRO take-down of this freeloader myth – and then contrive some rationale why those taxes are all that we really should care about (which Ramesh also calls hogwash). This is putting aside the fact that the 50% level that conservatives decry is largely a result of the recession, or that most of those people are low-income elderly who rely on Social Security, disabled people unable to work, or students.

Second, Ferguson relies on the fact that 50% of America's households have at least one member that receives some sort of Government benefit – as if this 50% just happen to be the 50% who didn't pay any income taxes! I mean, I don't even have to check my references to know that three of the top sources of Government benefits – Defense, Social Security, and Medicare, which together account for around half of total spending – come from taxes that everyone pays, and benefit everyone once they qualify. I mean, Social Security and Medicare which probably account for the majority of those 50%, aren't even raised through federal income taxes. It looks to me that Ferguson counts only income taxes to support the first end of his ridiculous claim, and then relies upon benefits that aren't even financed through income taxes to support the second – it isn't even internally consistent.