We are the 53 percent
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We are the 53% was a mathematically dubious attempt by the American right to counter the argument of the Occupy Wall Street campaign's claim to be the "99%" left worse off by the current economic climate. The movement was launched by wingnut Erick Erickson as a counter to Occupy Wall Street's "We are the 99%" but the point had previously already been made repeatedly by Republican presidential candidates Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and Jon Huntsman. "Republicans for Tax Hikes" has already been called "the new Republican orthodoxy."
Much of the allure for people claiming the mantle of the 53% is the notion that they are "pulling their own weight" in society, paying their share of the bill for social services. In most places this is seen as a virtue, but particularly so in America, where it is linked to a long heritage of Puritan work ethic and a pride in individual participation.
"We are the 53%" is the seed from which 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney derived his assertion that (the other) 47% of Americans do not take personal responsibility or "care for their lives," a comment that is widely believed to have contributed to his electoral defeat.
Deceiving through statistics
The number refers to the statistic that only 53% of U.S. taxpayers wind up paying any income taxes after their deductions and credits are taken out. The number is heavily misleading. The percent who pay no income taxes has long been in the 30 percent range, mainly due to the Earned Income Tax Credit and other deductions, but climbed to its current level following the 2008 economic crash when additional deductions and credits were enacted as part of the economic stimulus bills. One of these was the $7000 first time homebuyer tax credit.
The 53% number is also unusual because it refers only to federal income tax. The same people still pay: federal FICA payroll tax, state income tax, state and local property tax, state and local sales tax, excise and "sin" taxes, and other registration fees, user fees, tolls, and personal property taxes, depending on their location. These taxes aren't progressive; lower income earners have to pay a higher proportion of their earnings into them than the wealthy do. The final picture across the board? A system, if not regressive, very close to flat taxation.
In sum, it's dangerous quote mining at work.
Actually raising taxes
It is ironic that conservative activists are now campaigning for higher taxes, in the form of eliminating tax credits earlier generations of conservatives have long worked to add. Apparently tax credits primarily benefiting the working poor are not what they had in mind. The Wall Street Journal ran an editorial as early as 2002 decrying those whose incomes are low enough and credits high enough to pay little or no taxes, because — horrors — "workers who pay little or no taxes can hardly be expected to care about tax relief for everybody else." In addition to their immediate concerns of countering the Occupy Wall Street movement, this also appears to be part of a broader campaign to enact the "FairTax" (an onerous 30% national sales tax) or Herman Cain's "9-9-9 plan" (9% flat income tax, 9% national sales tax, 9% corporate tax), by portraying the current tax system as unfair.
Many people who had been sending their stories to the "We are the 53%" Tumblr account are not "the 53%." Some are unemployed, or make so little money that they don't pay federal income tax. Others admitted to having accepted government benefits or jobs. Additionally, many of these stories are so grim that it underscores the underlying message. Multiple stories of unemployed young people with six-figure debt, or a cancer patient who's literally working himself to death, don't seem to be a good argument against reform.
Of course, that assumes that these personal accounts are authentic. An image was taken down after a blogger discovered that it was Photoshopped and the story was fake. Another account fell apart under analysis by a blogger, who found the figures in the image highly implausible if not outright impossible.
Not all conservatives are on board with this newfangled love for big taxes. Ron Paul's response was if 47 percent didn't pay any income tax, then good, we are "halfway to our goal of eliminating it for everyone," while the Heritage Foundation denounced John Boehner's deficit reduction plan as leading to tax hikes.
- We are the 53% - official Tumblog
- We are the 1%, Bitches! (spoof site)
- Actually, You're the 47% - response site
- Conservatives launch “We are the 53 percent” to criticize 99 percenters, Washington Post
- Wealth Gap: How Far Apart Are The Bottom 50 Percent And The Top 1 Percent?, Huffington Post
- Republicans have finally found a group they want to tax: poor people, Slate
- Why Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” comment was so bad, Washington Post
- Signs of Dissent: What About the 47% Who Pay No Federal Income Taxes?, The Atlantic
- A debunking from as early as 2008
- Many of them added at the insistence of Republicans or enacted with Republican support.
- Taxes and the rich: Looking at all the taxes, The Economist
- Money Chart, xkcd
- This is not a particularly new thing; Republicans were complaining about not regulating shitty loans from Freddie and Fannie a few years ago.
- "The Non-Taxpaying Class: Those lucky duckies!" The Wall Street Journal
- See the 47% tumblog for more examples.
- "The 'We are the 53%' Tumblr is Heartbreaking", from Forbes of all places
- We Are the 53% is Using Fake Images, Daily Kos
- As seen on the53.tumblr.com
- Don’t Even Get Me Started, Mythical Bootstraps College Student, Persephone
- "Slowly eliminating the federal income tax" on the Ron Paul Forums
- "Conservatives Beware: The Boehner Plan Leads to Tax Increases!"