Let’s test Romney’s claims about the 47% by offering the unemployed jobs

By William Black
(Cross posted at Benzinga.com & Huffington Post)

I have explained how Governor Romney and Representative Ryan have self-destructed because they have followed Charles Murray’s demands that the wealthy denounce working class Americans’ supposed refusal to take personal responsibility for their lives by refusing to work.  Murray is the far right’s leading intellectual.  Murray’s Myth is that the wealthy are rich because they are morally superior to the lazy poor and that the poor are not employed because they are lazy.  Murray’s explanation for his support for Governor Romney says it all:  “Who better to be president of the greatest of all capitalist nations than a man who got rich by being a brilliant capitalist?”

Consider the missing aspect of Romney’s famous denunciation of the 47% — jobs.  A careful reading shows that Romney implicitly embraced Murray’s Myth.

“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.

“That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax.”

“Romney went on: “[M]y job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.””

I propose that America test Murray, Romney, and Ryan’s claims about the supposed refusal of the 47% to take “personal responsibility.”  Romney says “I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”  I think that Murray, Romney, and Ryan’s claims that the 47% are unwilling to take personal responsibility are false.  I think that the issue has nothing to do with Romney’s persuasive abilities.  I also know how to test the validity of their claims.

Even Romney’s knows that his claims about the 47% fail on many levels.  First, many of the 47% vote for Republicans.

Second, Romney knows that many of the 47% are in no position to avoid being “dependent upon government.”  Tens of millions of the 47% are minor children.  Tens of millions are elderly and retired.  Millions are profoundly disabled – hundreds of thousands of them injured veterans.

Third, the adult members of the 47% overwhelmingly took personal responsibility for their lives.  They paid taxes – income, social security, sales, and property and corporation taxes.  (A word about tax “incidence” – the people who actually bear the economic cost of a tax frequently differ from the entity that nominally pays the taxes.  Economists generally believe that businesses pass on sales taxes to customers, landlords pass on property taxes to their renters, both the employer and employee portions of Social Security are borne by workers, and that corporations generally pass on corporate taxes to their customers in the form of higher prices.)  These members of the 47 percent eventually became elderly, sick, disabled, or unemployed.

Fourth, hundreds of thousands of the 47% are “dependent upon government” because they took “personal responsibility” and cared for our lives at the risk of their lives and health.  These are the veterans, police officers, and firefighters who were injured protecting the public, and the families of those who died protecting the public.  These are the government employees who sacrificed their health or even their lives to protect us.  The disabled former government employees are in fact victims, but they generally do not view themselves as victims.  Those that die protecting us often leave minor children who are “dependent on government.”  Many of them will choose to follow in their deceased parent’s path and protect us by routinely risking their lives and their health when they become adults.

In his rant against the 47%, Romney implicitly adopted Murray’s claim that the unemployed lack jobs not because of the Great Recession, but because they are shiftless and refuse to work and take personal responsibility.  (Romney and Ryan often make inconsistent claims that unemployment is caused by regulation, or taxes, or whatever is their complaint de jour against Obama.)

Testing Murray’s Myth

We can test the claim that unemployment is high because the unemployed are shiftless.  My colleagues at UMKC have detailed how to create a job guarantee program that offers a job to everyone who wishes to work.  Our experience is that such jobs prove very attractive to the unemployed.  A jobs guarantee program creates many winners.  The public gains from the services provided by the newly employed.  The unemployed gain not only income but far greater psychological well-being.  The government gains greater tax revenue.  Businesses see increased demand for their goods and services.

Americans overwhelmingly seek to take personal responsibility for their lives.  Indeed, Americans work extraordinary hours.  American mothers with young children frequently work outside the home.  So let’s put the vicious abuse that Murray urged the wealthy to heap on the purportedly shiftless unemployed a rest and actually test his claims through a job guarantee program.

I predict that the Republicans will fight ferociously to prevent us from testing the truth of their abuse of the poor.  They cannot allow a test because they know they are slandering many millions of Americans.  Their first nightmare is a job guarantee program that leads to television images of millions of Americans eagerly signing up to jobs.  Murray’s Myth would be destroyed in full public view.  Their second nightmare is that the job guarantee would speed the recovery and provide useful projects and services that Americans would love.  The slander is despicable, but the fact that they will do anything to prevent a test of Murray’s Myth compounds the slander with a toxic mix of cowardice and hypocrisy.


Bill Black is the author of The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One and an associate professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. He spent years working on regulatory policy and fraud prevention as Executive Director of the Institute for Fraud Prevention, Litigation Director of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board and Deputy Director of the National Commission on Financial Institution Reform, Recovery and Enforcement, among other positions.

Bill writes a column for Benzinga every Monday. His other academic articles, congressional testimony, and musings about the financial crisis can be found at his Social Science Research Network author page and at the blog New Economic Perspectives.

Follow him on Twitter: @williamkblack