Romney, Obama and the New Culture War over Fairness

Romney and Obama extol profoundly different conceptions of what is just. No wonder they both think they're right

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Christopher Morris / VII for TIME

Mitt Romney, left, and Barack Obama during their first debate at the University of Denver on Oct. 3, 2012. Taken from CNN

This is the kind of fairness that pervades the 47% speech. In fact, the question prior to the one that elicited Romney’s ill-chosen words is worth quoting, for it reveals a great deal about the mind-set in Romney’s social circles. One of the wealthy donors at the Florida fundraiser asked:

My question to you is, Why don’t you stick up for yourself? To me, you should be so proud of your wealth. That’s what we all aspire to be — we kill ourselves, we don’t work a 9 to 5. We’re away from our families five days a week. I’m away from my four girls five days a week and my wife. Why not stick up for yourself and say, Why is it bad to be, to aspire to be wealthy and successful? You know, why is it bad to kill yourself?

In other words, the fact that many of the superrich work superhard, almost to the point of killing themselves, justifies their extraordinary wealth. The people who work the hardest should be paid the most. The next questioner extended the argument about proportionality by talking about the nonrich:

For the last three years, all everybody’s been told is, Don’t worry, we’ll take care of you. How are you going to do it, in two months before the elections, to convince everybody you’ve got to take care of yourself?

These two questioners set up a clear moral vision of America: rich people work hard, and everyone else wants to be coddled. Romney then showed his audience that he shared their vision when he dismissed the 47% of Americans who don’t pay income taxes. By the logic of proportionality, people who are not paying into the Treasury should not be drawing benefits. Of course, if you apply this logic fully, you should not exclude those who paid taxes in the past (like the elderly), those who will pay taxes in the future (like students) and those who pay payroll taxes but not income taxes (like the working poor), but never mind that. For Romney, the Democrats killed the American Dream by getting us to the point where 47% of Americans feel entitled to government benefits they are not paying for.

(MORE: Haidt: Have We Evolved to Be Religious?)

It was precisely to counter this Republican moral frame that Obama made his famous remarks in Roanoke:

There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me, because they want to give something back … Look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own … I’m always struck by people who think, Well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something: there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.

Obama tries to use the logic of proportionality to justify higher taxes on the rich. He rejects the claim that the rich work harder than everyone else and argues that they owe something in return for their success. As he put it:

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

(MORE: Blue Truth, Red Truth)

It’s clear in the context of the entire speech that the that in “You didn’t build that” refers to infrastructure — to the roads and bridges, the Internet and the “American system.” Obama was not trying to say, “You didn’t build your business.” But he was trying to take away credit from entrepreneurs. He was telling successful people that their success was due less to brains and hard work and more to their use of government-provided infrastructure. Needless to say, those who think of themselves as job creators heard this as an act of ingratitude and an offensive violation of proportionality. They think the country should be thanking them, not billing them for infrastructural services rendered.

2. When Fairness Means Equality
The second common meaning of fairness is equality: everyone gets the same. Equality is a special case of proportionality. When everyone’s inputs are equal, what’s fair is that everyone should get the same outcome. With voting, for example, we think that all citizens are equal in their citizenship, so each citizen gets one vote. But what about wealth? Should that be equalized? The blue line in the graph shows how much people agreed with the statement “Ideally, everyone in society would end up with roughly the same amount of money.” Liberals (on the left) are ambivalent — some agree and some don’t — but the line slopes steeply downward. Conservatives strongly reject the claim.

(MORE: Obama’s Debate Strategy: Unilateral Disarmament?)

The word equal occurs exactly once in each of the two speeches, and the differences are revealing. Obama appealed to equality in the rousing conclusion of his speech when he compared his audience to his grandparents, saying they all shared a faith in America and “a belief that all of us are equal [audience applause] and that we’re not guaranteed success, but we’re guaranteed the right to work hard for success.” Romney, in contrast, used the word equal only when describing a meeting years ago with a lawyer who asked him how he’d like to divide his future estate. His reply: “I want to divide it equally among my five sons.”

Obama is probably downplaying the liberal value of equality in this campaign more so than in his 2008 campaign, in which he was raked over the coals by Republicans for his response to Joe the Plumber. When Joe asked whether Obama’s plan would raise his taxes if his income rose, Obama said, “It’s not that I want to punish your success … I think when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.”

But even if Obama never talks about redistribution anymore, many liberals do. I visited Zuccotti Park, home of Occupy Wall Street, in October 2011. Among the most common themes on the protest signs was the need to raise taxes on the rich to create greater equality.

At Tea Party rallies, one never sees signs extolling equality. Fairness is a major theme, but it is almost always fairness as proportionality. Tea Partyers may not be enthusiastic about Romney, but they share his conception of fairness, in which progressive taxation is a punishment for success and social programs are a reward for failure.

(MORE: How Mitt Romney’s Faith Could Help Him Win)

3. Procedural Fairness
The third major kind of fairness is procedural fairness, which means that honest, open and impartial rules are used to determine who gets what. Liberals and conservatives each claim to value procedural fairness, but in a society with massive inequality, the rich have many opportunities to rig the game in their favor and give their children advantages. Should we do anything to level the playing field? The green line in the graph shows how much people agreed with the statement “Our society should do whatever is necessary to make sure everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed.” It slopes down sharply. Liberals strongly agree, which is why Obama invoked the government programs that helped his and his wife Michelle’s parents succeed. Conservatives are ambivalent, which is why Romney praised his and his wife’s forebears, who succeeded despite the odds stacked against them, with no help from government.

One of the central Occupy Wall Street concerns is that business interests and other assorted millionaires have fatally compromised procedural fairness in the U.S. Crony capitalists own the Congress and rig the game — and tax rates — for their own benefit. This is why there is such pervasive despair on the left about the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case, which enables wealthy individuals to buy influence in bulk by spending unlimited sums to support specific candidates.

(MORE: Charles Murray: The New Upper Class and the Real Reason We Dislike Them)

It’s not that conservatives don’t value procedural fairness. They surely want everyone to play by open and impartial rules in their workplaces or when they go to court. It’s rather that they trust corporate America more than the federal government, and they are suspicious of government efforts to level the playing field, which they see as a covert way to achieve social justice. Conservatives reject social justice as liberal code for enforcing equality of outcomes despite inequality of inputs.

So this is where we are as a nation. We all agree that something is broken in America, and the American Dream is dying. (Data back up the fear: economic mobility in the U.S. has fallen behind that of many European nations.) We all agree that the other side is to blame and that tax policy can be used to restore basic fairness and revive the dream. We just can’t agree on what fairness means.

MORE: How Obama Saved Romney

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The kinder, gentler Romney that we saw in the first presidential debate finally disavowed the 47% comments, but people disavow Freudian slips all the time.

But Obama didn't even bother to disavow his gaffe, so that makes him better because why? Because all benefits flow from government, so we owe it our lives, or

at least large parts of our livelihoods if we work hard and make our selves a success.

I don't need you to tell me which one I believe!

James Anderson
James Anderson

Note where the lines meet at "moderate:"  Disagree that all have the same amount of money, agree that pay hardest workers the most, and agree on equal opportunity.  These make perfect sense, although arguably "pay the hardest workers the most" might mean that the hardworking dishwasher should get the same pay as the hardworking executive.  The embedded assumption in this statement is that people who get paid more must be working the hardest and ignores the built-in system of advantage and power that determines the value of labor.  Otherwise, there is really no argument until ideology rears its ugly head.   


I find it hard to believe that the rich, such as Romney, and many others have come to believe the myths created by the Republicans by using "Big Lie" propaganda. A LA Times reported talked to some of the rich at the Hamptons and many of them repeated the same lying talking points the Republicans use.

Mark Cuban wrote an article  in the Huffington Post that showed that he too believed in the 'Zombie" lies.

What's going on here? Aren't these rich people supposed to know the cold, hard facts? Why do they constantly support the Republicans when the economy always does better under the Democrats?

 Examples and Links:

'Bush on jobs:The worst rack record on record",

"GOP leaders remind voters the economy does better under Democrats",

'A simple fact:Republicans can't manage the economy",

"Bulls, Bears, Donkeys, and Elephants"

"Private jobs increase more with Democrats in the White House"

"Which party is better for the markets?"


"Did the federal government create the great divergence?"


I just re-read the YourMorals graph, and it's actually much more encouraging than I thought.  Despite the philosophical difference between liberals and conservatives, they're in agreement on all three questions.  Both groups said hard workers should be paid more; it's just a question of how much more.  Both groups said we should strive to create equal opportunity, though some were more excited about it than others.  Everyone except the card-carrying Communists said we shouldn't all have the same amount of money.  Given the fact that we agree on the basics, we really should stop beating each other up.  Focusing on our similarities makes it much easier to find a compromise.

Christian E Perez Berlioz
Christian E Perez Berlioz

So the question is "What is fairness?" All views are valid in the minds of the left

or right to suit there interests. Is it fair to work more and earn less

(labor) and like Foroohar writes... "More jobs less pay". Big business is

becoming more and more a prototype for self enrichment not rewarding the workers and not spreading the wealth in form of "raises" (to help growth internally

within their micro family) or in the form of taxes (to help growth externally as

a state or nation). The human element is being replaced by automation to save

on costs... Big investments that later have a devastating effect on society.

Lets be honest, by doing this (which has been the model for the past 20 years

or so) "the rich have had much more opportunities to rig the game in their

favor" like Haidt writes.

In summary this is greed and does not translate well for a nation, company, bank,

government or the smallest denominator in an economy "the household". We're

taught as small children to share our toys! This is common sense and good

manners/education in other simple words... This is what most of us call


That is the surely one way or perhaps the only way to "get along" (coexist). Politics should not be about cat fights and showing the people how divided the nation is with all the disagreements an unwillingness to coexist; that is not fair.

Kiki Kaff
Kiki Kaff

One of the best pieces I have seen in all this craziness. Well done!


This article includes so many fallacies it staggers the mind.

The author refers to "President Obama’s “You didn’t build that” speech in Roanoke, Va". First, those words were never said (didn't you notice that when you included a quote later in the piece?). This intentionally misleading interpretation of the President's point was a campaign tactic unrelated to anything he actually said. Look at the transcript. The point was 'You didn't build that alone', in reference to things like taxpayer-funded infrastructure and the protection of American Business interests abroad. That you continue to push the specious interpretation speaks to your own politics, or your own lack of research. You claim that this wildly inaccurate interpretation of the President's speech is somehow directly comparable to Romney's extensive and revealing private speech to wealthy donors.  You project the interpretation that his words were "careless" (implying that he didn't really mean it the way it sounded, which is a value judgement of your own creation...and a silly one at that). You further assert  that Romney's words were a "Freudian slip", which is not only untrue, it displays a misunderstanding of the term.

The "47%" comment was not a slip. It is a right-wing interpretation of the facts that is as old as the hills, and empirically false (as it ignores the federal payroll tax, state taxes, etc). He was caught using it. THAT was the 'mistake'.

So, you fallaciously equate something President Obama did NOT say with something Romney DID say - in great detail - while defending Romney's words with excuses and implications that he didn't really mean it. This is a ludicrously uninformed and sophistic interpretation of BOTH speeches. How did this make it past your editors?

Your assertions about the viewpoints of the two men regarding their upbringing is almost as embarrassing. Romney's view is anything BUT "restore the vigorous virtues of hard work and self-reliance". Did you bother to look into the man's history before writing that? Leaving aside the incalculable benefits he derived from his upbringing (like the best schools, the best connections, a huge trust fund and stock portfolio, etc), he has accumulated his vast wealth by gaming the system from top to bottom. From sweetheart deals on investment income, to the massive borrowing that enabled his private equity 'successes', to the most complicated tax avoidance scheme in U.S. History, Romney ALWAYS takes advantage of what government can do, and is always ready to help the 'right' legislation (for the wealthy) get written. He LOVES government 'intervention' when it benefits his financial class, and loathes it when it seeks to provide opportunity to those in the poor and middle classes. It is objectively false to assert that he is some sort of lion of "self-reliance".

It's one thing to interpret data as one sees fit, it's another to invent one's own data out of whole cloth. I don't have time to BEGIN to address the critical information that was either omitted or misrepresented in this piece.

This article is based on very poor research, wild projection, and absurdly inaccurate interpretations of the words of the President.

It's conclusions should be viewed in that light.

 edit: edited to correct several typos

Lisa Majersky
Lisa Majersky

I think this entire argument is off the track. What should really be addressed is the concept of  proportionality. Why is the labor of some people so undervalued that anyone working full-time would be in poverty? Why is the unearned income of the extremely wealthy respected so much more, that it is taxed lower than the earned income of those who work for wages or a salary.

It's a red herring that liberals want everybody to have the some amount of money. The people who are elderly, disabled, are sidelined by health problems, or lacking in the level of intelligence to flourish in an increasingly competitive society, do not deserve to live in abject poverty. It also makes no sense to have such a stratospheric level of wealth for those whose lives have turned out better.

Shouldn't the very lowest level of people still live above poverty, when there is SO MUCH incredible wealth in this country? And does anybody really need to be a billionaire? What if even say, three million dollars was the upper level of personal wealth? With the excess either heavily taxed, or to be invested in new business?

And wouldn't it be great if the average person, with  a little extra energy, education, and some new ideas, could have a middle class income for their effort?

What's so bad about that kind of society?

Talendria 1 Like

The trouble is they're both correct.  The Republicans really did make us vulnerable to graft and corruption by deregulating industry, and the Democrats really did make three generations of Americans dependent on government assistance.  In my opinion, we need to rectify both of these problems.  Industry must be regulated, and citizens must strive to be makers rather than takers.

The media bears much of the blame for our societal polarization.  In a desperate ploy to increase revenue, they sensationalize most stories by reporting half-truths or out-of-context remarks which are sure to offend people.  The American public bears the rest of the blame because they allow these hatemongers to spoon-feed them instead of querying multiple sources and thinking for themselves.


Another South Park "Obama is Bad and I'll kick you in the nads".


I'm less certain of the "media bears much of the blame", but the media always put the spotlight on conflict, and the public is always ready to pay for a ticket to watch the fight.


A friend of mine earned a journalism degree 20 years ago. She said one of her professors cautioned, "If I can tell where you stand on the issue presented in the article, you fail." By that rubric, most journalists fail these days.


>>The American public bears the rest of the blame because they allow these hatemongers to spoon-feed them instead of querying multiple sources and thinking for themselves.<<

I wholeheartedly agree, but do you really think any true democracy is perform that much better? This might sound elitist (because it is), but the average person just isn't that intelligent or curious. 

I don't know how we can expect to come up with good solutions when everything has to be dumbed down enough so that it appeals to the average voter. If I had to pick my biggest criticism of democracy, this would be it.


Sometimes I feel the same way. But intelligence isn't the problem; it's prejudice. People hear what they want to hear because it makes them happy. That's why we have to distinguish between news and infotainment. News should enlighten you, not reinforce what you already think you know (and are probably wrong about).


Nerds are awesome. I'd be okay with living in a socialist society, as long as it looked like Star Trek TNG. :)

I agree with your service requirement idea. At a minimum, I think teenagers should be required to do 10 hours of community service per month. This has so many positive outcomes that I really can't believe no one's implemented it.


I tend to lump a lot of things under "intelligence", including the ability to recognize and overcome biases, so I probably should have been more thorough. In short, I agree.

However, even if we had various structures in place that reinforce good voter behavior (like fairly unbiased media outlets), it seems like it would take a lot more effort to get consistently good decisions from the masses than from the top 20% or so.

If you'll excuse my nerdiness for a moment, I am partial to form of government in Robert A. Heinlein's Starship Troopers. (Please wipe any memory of the movie from your mind, if you've seen it.)

Instead of universal suffrage, people can only vote once they have performed 2 years of federal service - which is often fairly dangerous, and comes with no real rewards aside from earning the right to vote. This has the effect of reducing the electorate down to only those that are willing to sacrifice for the public weal.

Anyways, I usually ignore any political suggestions from sci-fi/fantasy books, but it struck me that our political system would improve almost immediately if we implemented a similarly simple (though admittedly radical) change to suffrage.

Anyways, out for the night. Best Regards.


 That is so exactly right that i got chills reading your sentence (literally). So true, and so well said! :)


Hmm, if you apply Matt Ridley's ideas about confirmation bias to the media, it would seem that media conglomerates contribute to the monopolization of news which in turn diminishes its truthfulness. Or am I just confirming my original hypothesis? LOL


Thanks for the tip! I found the WSJ series and am plowing through it now. ;)


 Talendria, Look up the term 'confirmation bias', it speaks to the dynamic you're addressing. Interesting stuff


Essentially, it's not a matter of fairness.  From the point of view of journalists it should be a matter of who's telling the truth.  So on page 1 when Romney says his healthcare plan disallows rejection on the basis of pre-existing conditions, but it doesn't and his staff walks this back on page 20...or when he says his tax cuts were never as big as 5 Trillion but the 20% reduction of his plan shows 4.8 trillion in cuts, these are BIG, BIG lies told in front of 70  million people.  This should be grist for the journalists' mill.  But  then you dippy media guys report 'both sides lie', and there is NO COMPARISON between the lies told by Republicans amp; those told by Democrats.  No matter what the media bias, one thing is certain since Bush 2.  TIME, NBC (not MS-NBC), CBS amp; ABC have shown themselves to be absolutley cowed by Republican agrressiveness, money amp; power.  And that turns you all into a bunch of self-serving weenies.


Ben Franklin said:

"When the people find that they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic. "

This is what conservatives fear is happening.  The DNC has decided to explain to their suppoters that they can vote themselves money, phones, mortgage relief, etc, as long as they vote for Democrats.  Welcome to the end of the Republic.


Geez, talk about your inverted logic. The whole battle in Wisconsin recently was over those Republicans who think they can establish their right to retain wealth and privilege at the expense of family sustaining union jobs.

"These capitalists generally act harmoniously and in concert - to fleece the people." Abraham Lincoln


 Republicans have been voting themselves money for decades. What do you think all those tax cuts for the rich are?


Tax cuts reduce the amount that government takes from you.

How can this be directly compared to voting themselves money?

There is a more nuanced argument that could be made for this, but you haven't even begun to lay the groundwork for that. I can only assume it is because you are mentally lazy.



As a preface, I am actually not all that opposed to higher taxes. 

I don't have the time to reply to every single point you made (and if I did it would quickly reach TL:DR length), but I'll try to respond to the critical pieces.

>>Tax cuts for the wealthy do not stimulate the economy.<<

Somewhat agreed. They can provide a temporary boost, but then they become the "new normal" and you lower revenues in the long run.

>>Taxes on the wealthy use to be viewed as a civic duty...<<

No, not really. There are isolated and memorable examples like Oliver Wendell Holmes's "I like paying taxes. With them I buy civilization.", but people have been arguing about taxes and trying to evade taxes for as long as they have been levied.

>>The only way to stimulate the economy...<<

It may be the easiest way, and possibly even the best way under certain circumstances, but it is definitely not the only way.

>>I'd tax capital gains at the standard income tax rate...<<

Almost every economist (even liberal ones) are against taxing capital gains because it severely discourages investment. Investment is a very good thing, and I apologize for being rude, but if you think otherwise you're either crazy or don't understand economics.

That being said, it is somewhat perverse that people can live off of investments without ever having to engage in meaningful labor. The income tax is also perverse in that it discourages work.

A more fair and effective tax scheme would be to have a progressive consumption tax. Instead of discouraging investment or productive work it discourages excessive consumption, which has the added benefit of being good for social equality and the environment. Take a look at Matthew Yglesias if you want a liberal source that is in favor of this.

I really don't mind higher tax rates, but I will only support them if I think they will be levied wisely, and the proceeds used efficiently. Neither of these things happen under our current system.

>>All it will take is a spark...<<

Everyone is very familiar with the perils of extreme wealth inequality, but it only really becomes dangerous when people are starving or having to watch their children starve in front of them.

Until this happens, I think you're greatly overestimating the average person's willingness to suffer through the hardships and difficulties of riots and armed rebellion.

Perhaps I'll be pleasantly surprised, though.



There is a difference between voting yourself more money and voting to have less money taken away by the government.

Both may have the same end result (having more money) but how it happens is important.


 Tax cuts on the wealthy takes money that would have otherwise been collected  from other programs, leaving the rest of us to make up the difference.

Tax cuts for the wealthy do not stimulate an economy.

Taxes on the wealthy used to be viewed as a civic duty and they paid back to the country that gave them so much.

The only way to stimulate the economy is to take money for those who have it and can afford the taxes without an impact on their lifestyles or standard of living and reduce taxes on those who have considerably less.

I'd tax capital gains at the standard income tax rate and remove the maximum tax rate on social security taxes for starters and possibly increase income taxes to a maximum rate of at least 60%.  Then I'd cut taxes on those making much less - starting at the poverty rate PER PERSON in the household (as determined by current deduction rules).  Two people, you can make twice the poverty rate and pay no federal income taxes.

The wealthy control 93% of the nation's wealth (wealthiest 20%).  In 1980, that figure was about 65%.  The difference by percentage in today's dollars is 57 trillion dollars the less than wealthy no longer have that the wealthy do have with the majority of it tied up in "investments" which do NOTHING to stimulate a moribund economy.

Businesses will NOT hire anyone unless there is demand for their products/services.  The only to stimulate that demand is to have people spending money on those products/services.  With the less-than-wealthy controlling 57 trillion dollars LESS than they otherwise would have had the ratio of control remained the same between now and 1980, there is not ENOUGH money being spent in enough places by enough people to stimulate demand, which would in turn stimulate job growth.

The wealthy need to give back to the country.  It's more civilized to tax them and use our existing forms of government to initiate this redistribution of wealth than it is to be forced to do it at gunpoint by angry mobs.

The problem with the MINE! MINE! MINE! mentality is that it's destroying the country and if you don't give back, the people from whom they took (thanks to the right-wing policies of the last 30 years - the unnecessary FDIC increases, unfunded and pointless wars costing upwards of ten trillion dollars, corporate tax relief when they're making record profits already) the people WILL take it back for themselves and be a lot less gentle about it than the government tax man.

All it will take is a spark, which I expect will happen in Texas when right-wing radicals annoyed by democracy will revolt against the re-election of Obama and start a shooting war with the United States.  Once that happens, and Americans are killing Americans again, some bright boy will point out that our real enemy isn't the government, but the wealthy whose attitude, much like yours, is that they don't own the country anything for their opportunities and successes.

What happens after that is anyone's guess.  But the divisions are obviously too deep to be settled by words.  In America, once the talking and shouting stops, the violence and shooting begins.


 Think it through you seem like a smart guy. If your tax burden is less than you get more money.


Fairness has been clearly demonstrated and defined throughout the history of the United States and the rise of the middle class from the progressive era of TR, the new deal of FDR, and the end of WW2, LBJ's great society programs in an attempt to expand that opportunity, until fairly recently, most glaringly the Bush administration, which marks the decline and fall of the great American middle class, which demonstrates and defines unfairness.

As for hard work, all of the 1% does not work hardest, some let their money do the work, some don't work at all, nor does their money for wide job creation.

Mike P
Mike P

I find it very strange ,that in a country that claims to be religious ( and Christian at that) , most people worship the almighty dollar more than their fellow "creations". Over and over and over we see people who cant stand the idea that their money is going to help the folks who really need help. Is there gross fraud rippling through social aid? Yes but what should we do--just let people die off or fend for themselves because some money is being stolen? Which is the worse? Fraud can be contained but there will always be people who truly need help from govt sources. It sickens me to think how F-ing cruel this countrys voters can be to its own citizens.


I think your argument embraces the same fallacy it's condemning: namely, judging the many by the offensive behavior of a few.

If you look at government spending on entitlement programs, the largest expenditures are Medicare, Social Security, and Income Security (unemployment, food stamps, etc).  Most people don't object to paying for these programs, and no one is suggesting that we abolish them.  Many people are simply concerned that we can't sustain the current level of spending; actually we've seen this fiscal cliff looming for decades but never had the political resolve to avoid it.

The media loves to report comments branding welfare recipients as losers, just as they love to report perpetrators of welfare fraud.  Basically they just love controversy.  We have to stop letting them manipulate our emotions.  We're all in this together.

We especially need to stop attacking wealthy, successful people.  They're the job creators.  By declaring war on success, we've created a disincentive for people to invest in the economy, which is going to hurt all of us for many years to come.



Hi again :)

I have to take issue with the assertion that "no one is suggesting that we abolish them". That's simply not the case. LOTS of people are suggesting we abolish them, and many more are suggesting that they be so changed as to be unrecognizable in form and function.

One of the main tenets of MOST modern Republican candidates is the privatization of social security and/or the 'voucherizing' of Medicare (meaning, 70 year olds would be given vouchers for insurance, and expected to find an insurance company that would touch them with a ten foot pole). And, of course, the same people that are MOST outraged about "entitlements" are the same people that want to increase the already bloated military budget (not to mention that the military budget is 'socialized', which is allegedly one of the things that the anti-SS/Medicare people hate. Except when it comes to the military, it seems)

The term "entitlement" is itself political. Note that we use it when referring to programs that have been paid into over a lifetime (like Social Security), but we do not use it for other government initiatives (like writing off hundreds-of-dollar tabbed lunches as 'business expenses'). It's never labeled an "entitlement" when you're rich.

Of course, technically everyone is using different definitions of the term, but that's not how it plays out in real politics.

These issues and others are used in an intentionally divisive and dishonest way by politicians (like the recent baseless assertion that President Obama "abolished the welfare-to-work requirement") to great effect.

I agree that the media (owned by the same people who would benefit from the privatization of these services) exploits our disagreements in an effort to lure viewers/readers/listeners - but in the end, the greatest disservice is done through their use of false equivalencies. When both sides of an issue are given equal weight without fact-checking or context, we are all the poorer for it.

The 'welfare to work' lie is a perfect example. The media reported: 'Candidate A asserted today that Candidate B ended the welfare to work requirement; Candidate B denies the charge'. Then they proceeded to shows some clips of talking heads representing their respective party's positions. The objective truth is that the work to welfare requirement was NOT ended in any way - the only change was to suggest that state's should have the right to tweak their own programs, as long as the results were at LEAST as good as the federal plan. The original assertion was not true, and very little research is required to confirm that fact independently. The media did a disservice to it's listeners by giving a lie equal footing with the truth. Now, in some cases (when it comes to politics) the two sides issue spin that cannot be immediately pinned down as true or false, or the truth depends on what the person hearing it already believe to be true - but much of the time that is not the case. Many times the truth is a matter of record, but is presented as a matter of debate.

I agree wholeheartedly that we see too much " judging the many by the offensive behavior of a few". Definitely. The problem, for me, is that many times when people engage in awful (political) behavior their fellow party members refuse to condemn their words. If you refuse to dispute a position advocated by someone in your own political party, it amounts to a defacto endorsement. By failing to hold politicians accountable for the words/policies of their most extreme party members, we allow them to benefit from the behavior without being accountable for it. That same dynamic (appealing to fringe/nasty elements without having to own up to it) is responsible for the ever-increasing use of 'dog whistle' terms in political speech. For many examples of this, research Newt G's recent comments on the President's "rhythm" or his need to "go play some basketball", or his assertion that he is "the welfare President" - or, on the other side, look up any member of the old 'Democratic Leadership Council' for populist lingo/jargon, backed up by antithetical pro-Wall St. legislation.

I have one other quibble if you'll indulge me, lol. Your assertion that the wealthy are job creators is certainly open to debate. Please hit your favorite search engine and read 'Rich Americans Aren't the Real Job Creators', by Nick Hanauer for a different perspective. It really is worth your consideration.

Thx for reading all this!


I think I agree with some of what you said, although I had to filter out the emotion. I don't watch TV news for the same reason; I find that the anchor's emotional appeals actually make it harder to understand the issue.

I think it's an exaggeration to say that anyone wants to abolish Social Security or Medicare. I agree that privatization and vouchers are new concepts for us, and therefore we can't be certain how well they'll work out, just like the Affordable Care Act is new and uncertain and therefore scary to some. The important thing to remember, I think, is that the current system is broken. We can't just keep on going the way we have been, because the model is unsustainable. As with everything in economics it's hard to know exactly what's coming until it's already happened (and even then no one will agree on what happened or why), but I think there's a very high probability that we've reached the tipping point in terms of outlays and collections. The interest on our national debt is already our 4th largest budget item, and we're going to be trapped in a downward spiral if we don't pull up soon.

Entitlement has become a politically charged word, but all it means is a benefit that's guaranteed by right or contract. Every citizen of this country receives entitlements. You'd be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn't received unemployment insurance or Social Security during their lifetime. That's why the accusatory tone over entitlements is so absurd; everyone uses them. I think it could be instructive if the government issued an annual statement to citizens that summarized their Lifetime-To-Date contributions and withdrawals. Many people, especially elderly Republicans, might be shocked to know how far in the red they are. Even when you adjust the numbers for inflation, the government is paying out a lot more than people paid in. With unemployment and the declining birth rate, we can't sustain a model where everyone collects more than they pay in.

I agree with you that there's extreme bias in politics and often in media. I hate the Tea Party and, by extension, the Republican Party for their unrelenting slurs against President and Mrs. Obama. The obvious animosity makes it hard to take their platform seriously, which is unfortunate, because I believe their economic strategy is actually sounder than the Democratic Party's.

I'm not sure what to think about Mr. Hanauer's article. I may need a few days to digest it. My initial thought is that only ~10% of the population possesses the drive, intellect, and connections to start a business. Most of us are content to be worker bees. He's correct that the middle class needs enough disposable income to support businesses, but I'm not convinced that every one of us has an entrepreneurial idea just waiting to pop out. (Everything I've ever thought of has already been patented.) The point I was trying to make about not hating on the wealthy is not so much that you shouldn't raise their taxes but more that you shouldn't burn them in effigy. Starting a business is risky and time-consuming. If we want people to undertake those risks, we have to assure them that we won't confiscate their property. Socialism inhibits investment. We should instead treat job creators like heroes, which might make their inevitable tax hike sting a little less.


I noticed that the conservatives finally admitted (indirectly) that they value equal opportunity a lot less than liberals. Thank you for admitting what we all knew already.


Most conservatives I know value equal opportunity as much, if not more, than liberals. 

What they do not value, and what most liberals really mean when they say equal opportunity, is state-enforce equality of outcome.

T Marq
T Marq

Becoming wealthy has never been the issue, the issue is how it's accomplished by many of the rich, through layers of deception, theft and slanting the laws whenever possible to leverage their isolated position. For example, if a working individual come up with a solid million dollar idea while at work it becomes the sole property of the company and the individual would most like get a small thank you gift or later fired. This practice is now a common attitude in all major corporations.

But it does not end there. There are literally hundreds of ways to steal from those that have worked hard and are deceived with words, as "at least you have a job because you work hard and contribute", meanwhile those on top claim that they are the moving force of a business, really, few don't have a clue what it means to get their hands dirty or even care to.   

America is a nation of creativity, but the laws have been bent to allow that creativity to become fully owned by a selective abusive few and then they rub our noses in their claims that they have earned it.

What this country needs is to rethink the assignment of corporations as single entities, and that any and all ideas, processes, manufacturing's, sciences, etc.  remain in the sole ownership of that single individual, regardless of where it was made, until that person decides to sell it to the company or whomever they please. This, above all, will remove the motivation and shift some of the wealth back to the people.


I understand your frustration with regards to corporations owning all the ideas and work of employees. 

I'm an engineer, and every time I have to sign that contract whereby I grant my employer exclusive ownership of any ideas I come up with while employed (even if dreamed up outside or work), I want to scream. 

That being said, I think the dissolution of the corporation (which is the end result of what you propose) would make the world a little fairer, but much poorer in the long run.

Corporations should be subject to certain tight controls and restrictions in order to keep them from challenging the primacy of the state, but they need to be implemented so as to not cripple productivity. I'd be happy with stronger controls overall if they would just be implement intelligently.


 Corporations - as they exist today - are a structure through which everyone involved can make money while avoiding individual responsibility for the repercussions of their quest for profit.

We can do just fine without them. Corporations have no inherent right to exist: WE define what behaviors/institutions our society sanctions. We can create something better. Corporations as we have allowed them to evolve, are a detriment.

Further, the fallacious corporate "personhood" established by the right-wing SCOTUS is the death knell of our country. We need 'our' legislators to destroy the concept utterly, by Constitutional Amendment.

A whole bunch'a people will have to become much better informed before that happens. With corporations now granted the power to purchase both the elections (thanks Republicans on the SCourt!) and the media (thanks Republican Congress and Bill Clinton!), it becomes less and less likely that anything will be done to impede the purchase/sale of our country by the wealthy elite (protected by the corporate structure).

The problem with regulating corporate behavior can be seen on a daily basis. Many of these industries WERE regulated, and the monied elite that own them spent long years and lots of money to undo those regulations. That will always be the case. Only egregious abuses (like those we suffer from today) will lead people to seek remedy... So, people finally fight back, reregulate this industry or that, and a generation later a few bought politicians undo it all and the cycle begins again. There's no lasting cure, I'm afraid. It seems to me that both the baby AND the bathwater need to go... The corporate structure simply cannot be reformed.

Just my 2¢.

- "republicans on the scourt' in reference to the Citizen's United case; an almost unprecedented act of judicial activism.

- 'republican congress and bill clinton' refers to the Telecommunications Act of 1996 which demolished media ownership laws, allowing 6 giant multinational corporations to buy the overwhelming majority of the media (including the website we're currently on). A move that guaranteed a uniformity of editorial perspective, as the wealthy own these giant media corps, and the last thing they will do is advocate policy that undermines their bottom line. It baffles me that people still use the term "liberal media", as if 6 gazillion dollar corporations would be remotely 'left'. I think people must confuse fiscal policy with one or two social issues. Sure, they can be 'liberal ' on a social issue or two, as it doesn't cost them a thing. Fiscal policy - which is a very large umbrella - is something else entirely.


 I didn't mean to imply that corporations shouldn't be replaced with a more responsible/beneficial construct. I do believe we should start from scratch, however, rather than trying to reform the irredeemable.

Corporations CAN be good; they just rarely are. The good they can do (or have done) is far far outweighed by the bad.

As for unions... We'll have to agree to disagree. I find that most people that 'hate' unions generally only have a few anecdotes or vague assertions to support their position. Anecdotes, no doubt, assembled while enjoying an 8 hour work day, a 40 hour work week with overtime pay,  safe work environments, (at one time) fair pay, a process to protect them from arbitrary firings based on the whims of the few.... I could go on.  A lot. Without unions, we have precisely none of those things. We have Feudalism, with toothpaste and American Idol. Removing unions from the context of their creation is a frequent/fallacious line of attack (and looking at conditions now, it's high time they made a comeback). The wealthy have never given up anything they could keep for themselves. Unions are one of the best levers we've ever had to combat the calcification of resources at the 'top'.

I would be more than happy to live in a world in which no union was ever necessary. Doubt I'll live to see one. It's not the concept itself I love - it's the need to an an equal force to push back against the aggressive self-interest of the ownership class. Somehow, a once proud and independent American working class has been so trampled and abused that many now believe they should take any abuse, any inequity, with a grateful smile. It is the middle and lower classes that drive our economy; the ownership class merely reacts to it (and then takes credit, in an effort to justify more and more extreme legislation protecting them from the risks of the market)

"not that there was much to stop them previously, though."

There is no comparison between the money that can be extracted from working people and the largesse that can be heaped from corporations and their wealthy shareholders. Yes, Citizens United made it all nice and legal, but both sides never had any trouble getting money to their politicians - and the wealthy, obviously, have always had more of it to give. The historical record backs this fact up again and again and again, though the shell game process has changed repeatedly.

First, the corporation of today bears little resemblance to those of only a decade or two ago. Since 1980, there has been a veritable river of legislation freeing them up from all the uncomfortable constraints of the New Deal. While I believe the original thinking behind the 'absolute poverty' assertion is fallacious (it's easy to claim victory when you've systematically crushed your opposition... Like someone bragging that they gave out the most candy at Halloween while neglecting to mention that they burned down all their neighbor's houses. Remove context, and all claims can be given the appearance of legitimacy), but I'll check out the link - Thanks (really).

Best regards to you as well... Nice talking to you, Belisarius85 :)


"Corporation. An ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility." - Ambrose Bierce

I agree that corporations have no inherent right to exist, but I think you may begin to trod on freedom of association if you try to ban them. And then others could use the same justification to ban those labor unions I hate so much.

I dislike the Citizen's United ruling and corporations probably need to have structural reforms, perhaps having an option for socially responsible incorporation, or something similar the limit the negatives of pure profit-seeking. As a side note, the ruling also allows unions to freely donate to political causes - not that there was much to stop them previously, though.

However, I disagree about corporations being a net detriment. They're an efficient vehicle for the production of goods through the pooling of resources. They've also done more to reduce absolute poverty in the world than all the NGOs and foreign aid combined - and that isn't even their main goal, it's merely a side effect of making goods cheaper and more available.


Since this is from the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization, I don't expect them to be completely impartial, but there are other sources that back it up if you care to look.

Best Regards.


The budget i don't think is that big of a problem. The government can print more money to pay for any short fall it has(we did it  before in the 80s). Normally the only people that say o look at the budget is the party that is not in power. When W was in office the left said 2 trillion in war spending. When Obama came to office the right said look at all of the spending.

I do think fairness is an issue. Due to the fact that in order for the united states to stay powerful it has to ensure that most of the people in this country do well. Investments in healthcare and education are two big ways to improve that. This is even more true now with the growth of China and India.

Overall i think the more people we get to be better off in life. The better off our budget looks. A single mom going to college with the help of government grants to get a management job in the end is higher taxes paid.

I think most Americans get too worried about short term issues like year to year budgets and totally miss out on long term investments for this country.

Our current budget problems are already getting better year by year as more and more people get work.


Education is probably THE most important investment that our society can make, but like everything else the funding needs to be allocated properly.

You can spend ten times the current levels on public schools in economically depressed areas, and odds are you will get almost no return unless the students actually want to be educated. It would be more prudent to find a way to either convince or coerce these people into actually caring about education before increasing the amount spent per pupil.

By the same token, the teacher's unions have to be either significantly reformed or crippled. In my home state of Alabama, we scored dead last in the Race to the Top initiative, mainly because the state teacher's union was powerful enough to prevent charter schools from setting up in the state. (For such a red, right-to-work state, the Alabama Education Association is very powerful - and very corrupt)


I agree with you about education.  That's the best tool we have to lift people out of poverty.  As to the rest, I think we have to acknowledge that American culture has changed.  People used to be embarrassed to take charity.  Now they get upset if you call it charity.  The only way the government safety net will survive is if we offer fewer benefits to fewer people.

Clarence Swinney
Clarence Swinney




These two have been writing it since 1992 Book--”America-What went Wrong”

How have things changed since then for the middle class? They say “straight downhill-

Thanks to the few ruling class which is having its way.”

Wages stagnating and going down, benefits jeopardized or disappearing, and our country being divided into a nation of have-mores and have-lesses. Public policy gave incentive to corporations to outsource. They say high wages excuse is malarkey. They say main reason is incentives provided by foreign governments and, then, when companies bring their product back there is essentially no tariff on it. Trade deficits=lost jobs. The ones remaining should be saying”Look, we are really working for the best interest of American workers here and we need some help”.

“The problem is, you have the mindset in Washington, in Congress and basically with every administration, that trade should be unrestricted.”

Recent Example: Hanesbrands—biggest hosiery -men' underwear—Winston Salem NC-

In 2010, Chinese government built them huge modern plant. All US plants closed.

Check the current retail price look for much lower price. Ha Ha Ha

The four page article tells us so much about what happened and tough choices to recapture/keep our jobs. Bartlett-Steele are Icons on Jobs. Bless them.

Tariff on imports.


The fed budget needs to be balanced but Romney and Ryan are all about cutting in the wrong places. Even fox news published an article showing that Ryans budget would amount to the same debt or more than Obamas.

for a party that want smaller government and less intrusion in peoples lives they certainly seem to be confused. What other party want to regulate what you do in your bedroom and the ability of a woman to control her reproductive system.


The debt from Ryan's 'plan' is higher than the debt produced by the President's budget (debt that can largely be placed at the foot of Bush's tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans... The ACA adds not one dollar of debt to the deficit) by several orders of magnitude. Ryan's plan generates tens of trillions of dollars in debt over several decades, according to two different non-partisan research outfits.

The Fox article to which you refer stated that both candidates take the same supplier-side reductions to the cost of Medicare. The point was, that while Ryan was saying 'Obama is cutting 700+ billion dollars from Medicare' he was failing to mention that a) it's all from the supplier side and the cuts are not from citizen services, and b) Ryan's plan for Medicare included the same cuts.

Other than that, I agree with your comment wholeheartedly... Sorry to be a picky jerk about the budget thing ;)

Darrel K.Ratliff
Darrel K.Ratliff

As many times as Romney's has done an about face on ideas hes right even when he thinks hes wrong   from  woman's rights  to  foreign battles on  imports and China's cheating on money vaulues  and  prison labor to keep exports cheap and exports higher.. to keep the big box stores on top of the Mom and pop places that sell for a bit more markup  and  having better quality  than the quick lower quality imports.    So Mitt might be right half the time if he could only make up his mind  and put out ads that show  what he believes . and  Put out specifics  in his tax ideas rather than   Trust me it will work out   its no better than the Oz  behind the curtain  (Karl Rove's  American cross roads  secret agenda  or more accurate secretly sponsored agenda to put  Republicans totally back in charge of destroying the  national budget and Middle class life.  a total Republican rule  with no checks and balances on it will end with  more  poor  and lower middle class  wage earners and more concentrated owners of  the wealth of the nation  which is NOT  the american dream for the majority of citizens.

and less help for those that are Unable to work a full days work for health reasons disability   that should not be starved  and robbed for what little they have scraped together to survive on.


«The most general form of fairness is proportionality, which means that people are getting benefits in proportion to their contributions.» This is absurd. What is fair is that if I work hard, in an area where the market actually values my work, I should be benefited in proportion to my contributions. Think about it. I can work hard all day digging holes and filling them in again. Should I be compensated in proportion to my work, or in proportion to how much the market values my work? People today work hard in later life because they were too busy partying and chasing their dreams in their youth. They studied social science and history instead of engineering and mathematics because, all that studying cramped their social life. 

We really do live in an entitlement culture, one that says: I may be too lazy to get training in work that the market actually cares for, but I should still be paid according to my hard work. We may as well say: pay me because I am deep down a good person! I know one family close to me who`s father built a 15 million $ business from the ground up. He has 6 children. Not one of them can be bothered to get post-secondary training to take the business over! I`m not saying the government isn't also in bed with a powerful banking elite. But people should get familiar with F.A. Hayek and other austrian economist`s works about why bankers and capitalist elites love socialism. Who is the government borrowing all this money from? Think about it! 


Your comment is undermined by your near total lack of understanding of the systems of government you mention.

"capitalist elites love socialism"

This is so absurd I don't even know how to begin to address it.

Silly, baseless, nonsense in pursuit of a bizarre hodge-podge of ideological assertions.

You might want to familiarize yourself with the terms 'confirmation bias', and 'the Dunning-Kruger effect.

Dan Bruce
Dan Bruce

"The group of those who believed were of one heart and mind, and no one said that any of his possessions was his own, but everything was held in common. With great power the apostles were giving testimony  to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was on them all.  For there was no one needy among them, because those who were owners of land or houses were selling them and bringing the proceeds from the sales and placing them at the apostles’ feet. The proceeds were distributed to each, as anyone had need."--Acts 4:32-35

Grace today?


Dan Bruce said:

< State entitlement involves me using the state to force someone else to pay while dodging the tax-man as best I can myself.

A perfect description of Mitt Romney and his wealthy friends. Thanks, grace. >

It's a perfect description of pretty much everybody. Don't you try to get as many credits and deductions on your tax return as possible? I'm sure you do, so does Obama and every other citizen of the USA. That's a completely different spirit from the one described in Acts.

Dan Bruce
Dan Bruce

I don't hide money offshore. Mitt does (that's probably why he won't release his tax returns).


Where does it say that the coercion of the state had anything to do with this? If God wanted to force us to be good, he could do it himself. The Bible presents the heart of man as desperately wicked. Do we really want to create a human institution that plays God? The Bible presents the ideal scenario in our fallen world: that people voluntarily help one another. Charity involves generosity on the part of the giver and gratitude on the part of the receiver. State entitlement involves me using the state to force someone else to pay while dodging the tax-man as best I can myself. For the receiver, it involves no gratitude since he has a right to free money. I practice grace when I give over 20% of my modest (probably less than yours) annual income to private charity. Supporting man's flawed attempts to create utopia on earth through government force, in the light of these attempt's awful track record, has nothing to do with grace

Dan Bruce
Dan Bruce

State entitlement involves me using the state to force someone else to pay while dodging the tax-man as best I can myself.

A perfect description of Mitt Romney and his wealthy friends. Thanks, grace.