Not Getting the Memo: Jonathan Adler and Nathaniel Stewart Misunderstand the Rehnquist-Roberts Court
Liveblogging World War II: October 30, 1942


The very smart Mike Konczal:

Four Histories of the Right's 47 Percent Theory: [T]he distribution of the tax burden isn't what the 47 percent theory is about. The 47 percent theory is all about grand political battles…. [T]here are two distinct parts to a good 47 percent theory. The first is who creates and sustains the 47 percent as a political agent. This can't be the bipartisan set of policymakers who wanted to do income support through work requirements as well as expand… the child credit; it needs to be agents with specific, outside political goals…. Who does it? The second part of a good 47 percent theory is that the consequences need to be terrible…. But how high are those stakes, and what do they represent?>Let's start at the beginning. Where does this meme start?

  1. Trickle On Trickle Down: The Lucky Duckies of the Wall Street Journal Editorial Page…. [T]his looks like an internal fight among conservatives and Republicans…. The Bush tax cuts are going to be across all families, and the editorial is warning that… it should focus just on the rich…. The editorials seemed more concerned that the federal tax code will retain its progressivity under this tax cut, rather than the lucky duckies initating a new culture war….

  2. The Battle: Right Wing Think Tanks and the New Culture War…. As Mark Schmitt wrote, "this theory that we're headed toward a radical egalitarian state is being developed is the American Enterprise Institute, the oldest of the conservative think tanks and one that, much like Romney, has forsaken the traditional business-minded conservatism of, say, the first President Bush, for hard conservatism in which everything is a grand showdown of incompatible worldviews."… The "30 percent" are the ones behind this expansion of people who don't pay federal income taxes…. The 30 percent are a group of people who "reject the free enterprise system culturally." The free enterprise system stands in "stark contrast to European-style social democracy." The 30 percent "twists equality of opportunity into equality of outcome."… Consequences?… [T]his locks young people into… the intellectual space of the 30 percent coalition….

  3. The Hammock…. Paul Ryan… at Heritage…. Who? The do-gooders who created the social safety net.  It's too generous…. Consequences?… People will be beyond the ability to help themselves, hypnotized as they are by the siren's call of the welfare state. This is why Romney can say "I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."

4. Takers and Public Choice…. Steve Doocey on Fox and Friends: "Coming up! A controversial question. With 47% of Americans not paying taxes – 47% – should those who don’t pay be allowed to vote?" Who? The 47 percent themselves… those at the bottom half of the income scale vote into office people willing to take from the top half of the income scale…. Consequences? The system eventually collapses… those at the margin work less and also join in demanding more…

John Quiggin:

47 per cent true: Romney’s main hope… is the expectation that very few people will actually regard themselves as part of that 47 per cent…. The parallel universe constructed by the right is built primarily on talking points, of which “47 per cent of Americans pay no tax” is a great example. These talking points work well, within the rightwing universe, no matter how misleading they are…. The 47 per cent line got a good run in the Republican primary campaign, and didn’t cause any trouble for Rick Perry or Michelle Bachmann (they caused enough for themselves). Things change when a point like this escapes into a general election campaign…. Mitt Romney won’t tell senior citizens or low-wage workers in North Carolina that they are part of the 47 per cent he’s written off, but the Obama campaign will…. [H]is remarks imply that the EITC and child tax credit are in the firing line…. All of this is coming at a time when the centrist media is finally feeling the heat for its decades of “he said, she said” reporting…

Jonathan Chait:

Arthur Brooks' Book The Battle: How The Fight Between FREE ENTERPRISE And BIG GOVERNMENT Will Shape America’s Future: If there is one dream of the Obama presidency that died a swift, merciless death with no hope of resuscitation, it was the hope that President Obama would usher in a new era of bipartisan technocracy…. The problems that Obama proposed to address—economic collapse, global warming, the costliest and cruelest health care system in the advanced world—could hardly be called mere excuses to impose liberal ideology. They were undeniably, empirically, crises…. George W. Bush had initiated bailouts of the finance and auto industries… had employed Keynesian fiscal stimulus in 2001 when the case… was nowhere near as strong. Obama’s health care plan relied upon private insurance and resembled the plan that Republicans had formulated in 1993. His cap-and-trade program closely resembled a proposal by John McCain. The new president genuinely seemed to believe that he and the opposition could look upon the same set of facts, consult with the economic experts, and reason together toward agreeable solutions.

We now know that each of Obama’s proposals was met by overwhelming and often hysterical opposition…. Arthur C. Brooks, the president of the American Enterprise Institute, both advocates for and offers anthropological evidence of the right’s embrace of totalistic rejection…. The premise… is that America is fighting a “culture war”… over economic [issues]… a zero-sum fight between two antithetical values in which compromise is impossible…. It is a curious premise. After all, economics is very different from social issues precisely because it is rife with positive-sum outcomes…. Democrats do not advocate communism and Republicans do not advocate anarchy. Both parties favor some mix of market and state…. Is it really not possible to imagine a compromise between these two visions?

If you conceive of Obama’s domestic agenda as… an attempt to solve technical challenges… the frenzied and unremitting Republican opposition is an expression of blind fanaticism and partisan calculation…. Brooks sounds certain that… Obama’s economic stimulus program is not even intended to address the economic crisis at all, because economic panic benefits Obama…. The only motive that he imputes to the president and the Democrats is hatred for rich people and the free enterprise system. Did Obama appoint top economists to his  administration? Well, yes, concedes Brooks--but:

he had to if he wanted the public to believe… government understands the financial crisis and can solve it with aggressive action….

And when he describes the Democrats’ response to the economic crisis, it is not as an application of misguided Keynesian policies, but as a plot to increase their own control:

Obama’s objective has been to tell a story about the financial crisis that leverages it into a game-changer for American culture….

Brooks does not entertain the possibility that Obama blames deregulation for the financial crisis because he actually believes that deregulation caused the crisis….

Brooks is a prototypical member of the modern Republican elite. His ideology is rooted centrally in the class war, a struggle between what he calls “the makers” and “the takers.” He inhabits an imaginary world in which the former are being hounded nearly to extinction by the latter. “At some point,” he sorrowfully predicts, “the rich (as defined by the 30 percent) will pay all the income taxes in America. For the 30 percent coalition, this is fair and just.” Brooks’s portrait of a world in which the rich are ruthlessly exploited in the name of absolute equality is long on hysterical rhetoric and very short on data. What little data Brooks presents is almost invariably wrong. “In America,” he declares, “the top 5 percent of earners bring in 37 percent of the income but pay 60 percent of the taxes.” This is false. The top 5 percent of income earners pay 38.5 percent of all taxes. And a system where the richest 5 percent earn 37 percent of the income and pay 38.5 percent of the taxes is not, I would submit, a draconian left-wing imposition.

Where does Brooks get this wildly wrong figure? The number he cites describes the share of federal income taxes paid for by the richest 5 percent…. When conservatives portray the tax code as unfair to the rich, they usually cite just the income-tax burden, calculating that their audience will fail to notice that “income taxes” do not mean taxes as a whole. Brooks uses the term “taxes” when he means “income taxes.” He has fallen for his own ruse….

Brooks is unequivocal about the centrality of equality of opportunity to his argument…. Equality of opportunity is an extremely radical, even utopian proposition. The Battle betrays no signs whatsoever of having considered what equality of opportunity would mean. It is, alas, a nearly impossible ideal to fulfill, since one of the most valued ways for parents to spend their wealth is to impart greater opportunity to their children…. Just how hard is it to go from poor to rich in the United States? A person born into the poorest fifth of the income distribution who manages to obtain a college degree is less likely to wind up in the top fifth of the income distribution than a person who was born into the top fifth but did not obtain a college degree…. Creating actual equality of opportunity—that is, a world in which a child of extremely poor parents is just as likely to succeed as an equally talented child of rich parents—is probably an unrealizable goal…. His advocacy of “equality of opportunity” is limited to assuming that such a thing exists already (but is under attack), as a justification for unchecked income inequality. Brooks does not attempt to demonstrate that the United States offers equality of opportunity, or any faint approximation thereof….

The central question of The Battle is how the “30 percent coalition,” despite its anti-capitalistic, anti-entrepreneurial views, managed to gain control…. The feverish, incoherent explanation that Brooks offers is a nice illustration of the extent to which Republicans view Obama’s presidency not merely as wrong, but as essentially illegitimate…. [A]cademics, the media, Hollywood, minorities, young people, and a few “predictable geographic enclaves such as San Francisco, California,” along with Seattle, Boulder, and the like. (If you have ever visited those places, you know how deeply entrepreneurship is despised. Just try attending a party there and admitting that you’ve started, oh, a software business. They will spit in your face)… a minoritarian and fundamentally alien and cunning alliance…. The 30 percent coalition won power, Brooks argues, by seizing upon the economic crisis in 2008….

Then they managed to enact their agenda through a campaign of intimidation. “When Republican Congressional leaders objected to the scale of the spending, the new president sought to silence them with two words of fact: ‘I won,’ ” Brooks recounts. “Across the country, those who complained or urged restraint were marginalized.” Silenced? Marginalized? There is a distinctly Chomskyite ring here, an imputation that we have a public debate that is free in name only. But Chomsky’s opinions are mercifully confined to a few cult books, alternative broadcasts, and tiny-circulation magazines, so that his radical critique of American democracy, his self-pity, is at least psychologically understandable…. Brooks’s worldview, by contrast, blares twenty-four hours a day on Fox News, talk radio, and countless other organs of mass communication. Chomsky may misunderstand the cause of his ideological marginalization, but he is not imagining the fact of his marginalization. Brooks and his positions, by contrast, are everywhere to be found. His claim that they have been silenced is comic….

“The sad truth is that the 30 percent coalition did not start governing this country with the advent of Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid,” he laments. “They’ve been in charge for years.” So wait. Now this small minority has been governing the country not just as a result of a “temporary panic,” but for years? And a collection of hippies, minorities, and liberal professors was somehow pulling the strings of the Bush administration? If this explanation appears muddled and unsatisfying to you, you are not alone. The most inadvertently damning indictment of Brooks’s argument was made by Newt Gingrich, a senior fellow at AEI. Writing generously of his boss, Gingrich gently notes that “he sets the stage for someone (maybe another AEI scholar) to develop the historical explanation of how this usurpation of the people by the elite came to be.” But of course that explanation is supposed to be the central argument of Brooks’s book. And more puzzlingly, this damning passage appears in Gingrich’s foreword to The Battle. It is very odd to see a book purporting to explain why an event happened that includes a foreword expressing the desire that some other author step forward to explain why the event happened….

What we have here, then, is the emergence of the anti-empiricist think tank president. And this is a notable signpost, not on the road to serfdom, but on the road to idiocy.