Forty Seven Percent

The following New York Times op-ed is a through rebuttal to the current talking point that almost half of Americans - 47%, to be exact - don't pay any income tax. This figure is true, but without the proper context, incredibly misleading.

The New Resentment of the Poor

By implying that the poorest Americans pay nothing in taxes, an assertion that leaves out a number of vital statistics about poverty and society, one immediately takes the focus off the wealthiest Americans and corporations.

The 47% implication, a powerful one if conveyed with the proper exasperation, tells us that the only logical recourse is to start by taxing those who pay nothing. This creates a narrative wherein the poor have never paid their 'fair share.' In turn, it implies that the rich are the victims. This narrative serves multiple purposes. It turns everything upside down so that the wealthiest, most privileged Americans are the put-upon victims, and the poor are the unwashed, neanderthalic villains, seeking to take advantage of successes they did not earn by avoiding their fair share. This is the classic Libertarian fantasy, where up is down and down is up, and the brutal cycle of disenfranchisement among our nation's poor is turned into a simplistic shell game, a fallacious equivocation that avoids the facts for sake of clever theories.

What's worse is, this narrative is bought hook, line and sinker by exhausted blue-collar Americans who spend all their energy railing against the evils of Big Government, but pay almost no attention to the Corporations who exploit them. Corporate influence in Government, not coincidentally, contributes to this sense of malaise in politics that has so many in this country protesting against impassive, insurmountable elites in Washington.

The forty seven percent figure implies that the poor or out-of-work are fundamentally lazy. It implies it is unfair for us to focus our pressure on the wealthiest in our society. It implies and assumes the presence of a form of Liberal Socialism in our society which invites the poor to leech off the successes of the wealthy. It ignores economic reality and denies the existence of a moral imperative.

This is what can be potentially devastating in politics. A single brilliant idea - even if inaccurate - executed successfully, constructs an entire story that misleads us and worse, misrepresents the origins and perpetuation of poverty and wealth for sake of a juvenile and selfish worldview.


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