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Sep 24 2012

Romney’s Redistribution Charge

In the wake of the release of that tape with him talking about that mythical 47% of lazy bums sponging off those who could afford the $50,000 check to hear him say it, Mitt Romney is doubling down and going full-wingnut. Now he’s claiming that Obama is in favor of “redistribution” while he isn’t.

“He [Obama] really believes in what I’ll call a government-centered society. I know there are some who believe that if you simply take from some and give to others then we’ll all be better off. It’s known as redistribution. It’s never been a characteristic of America,” Romney said Wednesday at an Atlanta fundraiser. “There’s a tape that came out just a couple of days ago where the president said yes he believes in redistribution. I don’t. I believe the way to lift people and help people have higher incomes is not to take from some and give to others but to create wealth for all.”

This is an attempt, of course, to make Obama look like a socialist while Romney poses as the defender of capitalism. But it’s all nonsense. When Romney says he doesn’t believe in redistribution, he’s lying. That universal health care law he so proudly signed in Massachusetts includes subsidies for those who can’t afford insurance; that’s redistribution.

The problem with all of this is that it vastly oversimplifies the situation, boils it down to a simple dichotomy — you’re either for redistribution or against it. But that’s just not the case. No serious politician from either party, with the possible exception of Ron Paul, is ever going to sponsor a bill to eliminate all forms of wealth redistribution. There are arguments over particular programs, and over how much we should fund them, but essentially no one is in favor of eliminating redistribution of wealth entirely. Certainly no president would ever try to pass such a policy; he’d be dead in the water politically, and Romney damn well knows it. He isn’t calling for the elimination of food stamps, school lunch programs, Head Start, S-CHIP, Medicaid, or most of the dozens of other policies that redistribute wealth.

Let’s also bear in mind that there’s a great deal of redistribution of wealth going from mostly middle-class taxpayers to wealthy corporations too. Crop subsidies, for example, go almost entirely to huge agribusiness interests, to the tune of billions of dollars per year. The billions in tax subsidies for oil companies are also redistribution of wealth, but it’s redistributing it up rather than down. Romney never seems to mention those things to the fabulously rich people at his $50,000 a plate fundraisers, likely because a lot of them are a good deal richer because of such redistribution.

As I’ve said many times, this whole redistributionist vs not redistributionist, or socialist vs capitalist argument is just one big false dichotomy. Every single modern nation in the world — even China — long ago figured out that a purely socialist or purely capitalist system does not work. Every major industrialized nation in the world has a mixed economy, combining private ownership of the means of production (China still lags on that, but is a long way from where it used to be) with a social safety net and government regulation. We can argue over where the balance is struck, how big the safety net should be and what kind of regulations we have, but no responsible politician or party is going to propose eliminating all regulations or the entire welfare state, no matter how broad their rhetoric might be when selling themselves during a campaign. The range of politically feasible policies is far narrower than that.

20 comments

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  1. 1
    Wes

    Like most politicians, Romney realizes it’s easier to to support vague platitudes about “values” than discuss any actual policy or concrete action. He damn well knows he can’t come out and say, “I’m gonna take away your medicare,” but he knows that there are a lot of people dependent on medicare who will vote for him if he promises to end “redistribution of wealth” without actually defining what it is.

  2. 2
    Marcus Ranum

    Romney likes redistribution!! He just doesn’t want it to be with an objective of fairness or social equality. More of a “redistribute from the poor, to the rich” kind of a deal…

  3. 3
    John Phillips, FCD

    US capitalism, socialism for the corporations and wealthy.

  4. 4
    brucegee1962

    I definitely agree with your last paragraph about the balance between government and business. One of the infuriating things about American politics is that any politician who suggests that we move the balance one or two ticks over to the government side of the scale is accused of being a full-out socialist. I don’t think I know of any liberals anymore who seriously believe that complete government control of private businesses is a good idea, yet we’re accused of believing that ALL THE TIME.

    On the other hand, I have spoken to a few conservatives who seem to believe the opposite — that there should be no government restrictions on business whatsoever. When I suggest to them that they read up on the 1880s and 1890s, before the labor movement got underway, when WE TRIED THAT, they actually seem to agree that yes, that was a genuinely utopian kind of world to live in.

  5. 5
    Michael Heath

    Mitt Romney states:

    I know there are some who believe that if you simply take from some and give to others then we’ll all be better off. It’s known as redistribution. It’s never been a characteristic of America,” Romney said Wednesday at an Atlanta fundraiser. “There’s a tape that came out just a couple of days ago where the president said yes he believes in redistribution. I don’t. I believe the way to lift people and help people have higher incomes is not to take from some and give to others but to create wealth for all.”

    This became especially ironic given last night’s interview with Mr. Romney on 60 Minutes.

    A little background first: During the Social Security reform debate during the W. Bush presidential tenure, I recall reading that social security benefits were not means-tested because during the initial promotion and implementation of this program, doing so would have supposedly turned the nature of this “insurance program” into a socialistic redistributionist entitlement program. The political optics during the development and initial implementation of Social Security stymied optimal policy ideas in favor of defending the program from right wing talking points, like screaming “socialism”.

    Now last evening Mr. Romney claimed a key element in his platform for reforming both Social Security and Medicare was to means-test benefits; a classic example of redistribution; as opposed to his misrepresentation of the president’s position. Though I’d argue President Obama is a redistributionist, nearly all of us are – at least those of us who are sane.

  6. 6
    John Phillips, FCD

    Michael Heath, well not so much necessarily sane :), but at least who have some humanity left.

  7. 7
    sunsangnim

    Is it even possible to imagine a government that doesn’t redistribute wealth? Even if you had a flat tax, the government has to spend money and inevitably somebody would benefit more than somebody else. I suppose the only way to to do it is with anarchy, so that all redistribution is done according to brute strength. Maybe that’s what they’re going for.

  8. 8
    fifthdentist

    You keep using that word; I don’t think it means what you think it means.

  9. 9
    raven

    The US government redistributes money all the time.

    Families with underage children get huge tax breaks, that supposedly core idol of the christofascists.

    While the nominal corporate tax rate is high, they never pay it. Corporations get government contracts, government help, and lots of tax breaks. Welfare for corporations is a way of life.

    Farmers get all sorts of government help, subsidies, crop insurance, Conservation Reserve programs, tax breaks, and on and on.

    My relatives in the middle of farmland nowhere have a reasonably prosperous area. I’m sure that at least half the county income is federal and state transfer payments, rural this and rural that. AFAICT, the feds are happy to pay them so that someone actually lives out there. They’ve been losing population since the 1930′s, and some towns are now ghost towns.

    They aren’t Tea Partiers that I know of, but are probably GOP voters.

    Defense contractors.

    It goes on. I would say everyone but me but I got some Romney type tax breaks last year.

  10. 10
    raven

    The type of economic policy and tax laws that Romney wants really have one purpose.

    To make the ultra rich, richer.

    They’ve been tried before. That is what they end up doing.

    What they don’t do, is make a nation wealthier or better off. A new book by Harvard/MIT economicsts makes the claim that it can cause national failure, i.e Why Nations Fail.

    Romney/Ryan have been vague about their tax and economic policy plans. It looks like if they actually said what they were, no one but morons would vote for them.

    Ryan’s Medicare plan seems to be to simply not pay out much for Medicare. I’m sure it will work, especially after old people start dying en masse from…lack of medical care.

  11. 11
    Michael Heath

    John Phillips, FCD writes:

    Michael Heath, well not so much necessarily sane :), but at least who have some humanity left.

    But even if one doesn’t have an egalitarian communitarian personality, which I don’t think I do, one still ends up arguing for some redistribution. That’s because we empirically understand optimal economic growth trends comes with more income equality than we have now, not more inequality as has been the trend the past couple of decades.

    The following related pet peeve of mine is not a criticism of John but instead of the Democratic party.

    While I appreciate Democrats making their case for more equal results on egalitarian and communitarian grounds to maintain fealty to their base, which predominately shares these personality traits; it’s politically imprudent to solely depend on such rhetoric. They have an opportunity to stick a knife in the GOP and don’t.

    National Democratic leaders since at least the Bill Clinton era have increasingly appreciated the role business plays in our economic success, along with following the prescriptions of economists even when those counter past liberal positions. The latter goes back to the Carter era on monetary policy and arguably the 1988 presidential campaign on fiscal policy (both Dukakis and Tsongas and perhaps more). This evolvement is a strength of the Democratic party which hasn’t been as energetically promoted as I think they should do, especially since it’s an attractive argument to those of us who were or are moderate Republicans or moderate independents disgusted with conservatives taking over the GOP while mutating into a reality-denying crew of incompetents.

    I’ve seen Barack Obama make economist-friendly pro-business arguments, but always quickly and not as fully fleshed-out and as much passion as I would like. It’s one weakness I see in him related to how Bill Clinton argued and still does where this weakness is shared by most of the other national leaders in the Democratic party. They support the right planks, but are either hesitant to make non-liberal arguments supportive of those planks or ignorant how they’d resonate with non-liberals.

    What’s particularly frustrating is that Obama’s policy positions give him the moral authority to make such arguments, yet he and the rest of the party mostly do not. In spite of the fact making such arguments doesn’t contradict the positions they promote with their liberal base.

  12. 12
    dingojack

    A Rmoney ‘hail mary’ pass (You’d think that would be more Ryan’s style).

    Intrade today (6 weeks to go).
    Winner of the 2012 Presidential election
    (Figures in parenthesis movement in the last week).

    by Party
    Democratic: 70.929% (+4.8612) [Lead by 42.058]
    Republican: 28.871% (-4.8614)
    other: 0.2% (+0.0002)

    Candidates head to head
    Obama: 70.493% (+4.293) [Lead by 40.987]
    Romney: 29.507% (-4.293)

    Dingo

  13. 13
    fifthdentist

    @ Raven,
    I interviewed for a story a farmer’s wife who breeds some of the U. of Georgia mascot line. I got there and she’s got like 30 of those English bulldots. AND a fully stocked private veterinary center complete with operating room. Her daughter went to UGA vet school. I’d say that all of this largesse — including tuition for the daughter — was paid for with farm program money.

  14. 14
    John Phillips, FCD

    That’s OK, Michael, I don’t take criticism of the Dems personally. How could I, as being an UKian, there are only about a half dozen Dems I could ver possibly vote for in good conscience, the rest are far too right wing for my taste. They are only ‘better’, and this includes Obama, when compared to the bat shit crazy party, i.e. the GOP. It’s a bit like asking whether I prefer the just right of centre end of the Tory party or the fascist end.

  15. 15
    Area Man

    …but no responsible politician or party is going to propose eliminating all regulations or the entire welfare state, no matter how broad their rhetoric might be when selling themselves during a campaign.

    While perfectly true, the problem is that the stated belief system of the conservative movement and the party that it controls leads to the conclusion that the welfare state should be abolished and regulations done away with almost entirely. And their behavior, through mostly deceptive tactics such as tax cuts that aren’t paid for, would seem to back that up. And yet they won’t just come out and campaign on it directly because that would cause them to lose. They could just accept that in a democracy the people get what they want, but they’ve adopted a cynical, hyper-elitist view in which the people must be fooled for their own good, and what the masses really need is coincidentally whatever is in the best interest of the rich and privileged. So they posture themselves as defenders of welfare state programs while working to undermine them from within.

    All of this results in the Republican agenda being completely incoherent and deceptive. Last night I saw a political ad in which a local Dem Congressional candidate was attacked for wanting government-run healthcare, and in the very next breath, for voting to remove $700 billion from Medicare. I’m surprised the voice actor got through it without snorting.

    I don’t think it’s possible for us to have a credible debate on where exactly to draw the line on redistributive policies, or how best to manage them, until the Republicans manage to fix their own internal contradictions and decide whether they’re going to support or oppose the New Deal once and for all, and then stake themselves to that position. Right now we’re dealing with a bunch of cynical liars and manipulators, like arsonists who swear they’ll take good care of the fireworks stand.

  16. 16
    Johnny Vector

    “Wealth redistribution” is the “transitional forms” of politics. Creationists squeal that there are no transitional forms at all whereas the reality is that at a top level all species (other than currently living species) are transitional. Similarly, wingnuts shriek that you can’t have an optimal economy with any wealth redistribution, when in fact at the top level all transactions are wealth redistribution.

    Buying an iPhone? Wealth redistribution from you to Apple. Borrowing from a bank? Wealth redistribution. Lending to a bank? Paying an investment company, selling credit default swaps, buying insurance. Driving on a public road distributes wealth from whoever built the road to you.

    Wealth redistribution is really the entire function of an economy. As everyone above has already said, it’s fine to argue about optimizations, but the Tea Party’s zero-tolerance approach to “wealth distribution” is, like so much of the conservative mindset these days, utterly counterfactual.

  17. 17
    eoraptor013

    Ed, here’s your problem: You keep using the word “responsible” in connection with politicians. Responsible is almost an antonym for politician; and certainly so for rethuglicans.

  18. 18
    lilscorpi61

    I noted in the discourse brucegee1962 said, “When I suggest to them that they read up on the 1880s and 1890s, before the labor movement got underway, when WE TRIED THAT, they actually seem to agree that yes, that was a genuinely utopian kind of world to live in.” I cannot help but ask how this spot in time can be viewed as Utopia, in the era specified, if one did not have immense wealth or have the correct political contacts; one would never achieve any semblance of wealth. After the Civil War a huge gulf in political leadership existed. The victors in what was left of the federation were rather concerned about and carefully watchful of whom filled the seats in Congress from the reintegrated states, and the good old boys club was born. An extremely small group of people controlled nearly all of the wealth in the nation. Theodore Roosevelt and his administration were instrumental in breaking up the mega-corporations of the era, allowing for some of the wealth to find its way into the pockets of others. Without the regulations set in place our nation would still be controlled by the families of the Robber Barons.
    I can only think of Joe the Plumber in the last election cycle and his position of, “though I have nothing, I aspire to greatness; at least someday and if you raise taxes my fantasy will never come true.” Our nation cannot survive another Great Depression or another Savings & Loan or Mortgage Backed Securities debacle. If one notices business has done rather well in the aftermath of the last economic crunch. When Obama was sworn in the stock market was at approximately 6550 in March 2009, currently September 24, 2012 13,550. The only real loss was for those who were invested in 401(k) or money market accounts. One will find that “trickle down” has not reached the roots yet. A good question is, tempered by not begrudging anyone their possessions, “How much is enough wealth?” I personally find many issues with the “two party system.” If one looks closely the appearance of one party with two hats is what is seen. Why would any sane person replace someone they do not want with someone else they do not want? Politicians pander to the wealthy and the wealthy rent political influence, either way the tab is shouldered by the man/woman in the as the poor have nothing to tax, the rich have tax shelter, and those in the middle are left holding the bag.

  19. 19
    kermit.

    lilscorpi61: I cannot help but ask how this spot in time can be viewed as Utopia, in the era specified, if one did not have immense wealth or have the correct political contacts; one would never achieve any semblance of wealth.

    Remember that these are the same folks who think that “they built that”. If they have a good job with a college degree, or a business they started up, they think that they did it all themselves. The infrastructure, including the culture and society, are irrelevant. So naturally think they think that in the 1880s they would be one fo the successful robber barons, and the otheres should suffer, because they are lazy.

    I saw this a lot in the 1980s, when the “Mad Max” type post-apocalypse movies were fashionable. All the young males nerds who watched it thought they would be Mel Gibson under those conditions, when they would really be one of the slaves mopping the warlord’s floor’s.

  20. 20
    thisisaturingtest

    #8, fifthdentist:

    You keep using that word; I don’t think it means what you think it means.

    It isn’t about what Romney thinks it means; it’s about what he can get his acolytes to think it means.

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