Pandora's 47%

Column by Jim Davies.

Exclusive to STR

Mother Jones has done us all a favor, and not just Obama as intended, by publishing Mitt Romney's remark that 47% of the electorate is unlikely to vote for him because that many are all drawing government favors and would not want them reduced.
That's because he opened up the subject, never normally discussed on campaign trails, of who benefits from government. It's amazing that he did so, but I suppose these politicos speak such a vast number of words, eventually they may let slip a few that matter. He could readily have overcome the embarrassment like Ron Paul might have – by taking the subject and running with it, as I will attempt to here; but since he is little more than a mouthpiece, an actor, with no particular economic understanding or philosophy himself, he'd hardly know how. Also, that would open the box of what government is really for, and his handlers would quickly shush him up if he did ever start to lift that lid.
The chances of his doing so are vanishingly small, but if he were to ask my advice, I'd offer a couple of suggestions:
  1. Check that 47% figure. It might be a great deal higher.
  2. Reconsider the premise that all government dependents want no change.
First, #2; and take me, for instance; I'm heavily dependent on “Social Security,” yet I vigorously call for that wicked system to be altogether terminated. If and when it is, I shall die--content in the knowledge that I helped bring America great benefit. While it continues, though, I shall use it to claw back some of the money the government stole from me; for did not the President himself say that those benefits are not handouts but a return of the money I put in to the system while earning? Sure he did, and so did FDR. Both of them are lying through their teeth, but who am I not to take such an august person at his word?
It may not be a majority, but I bet there are a whole lot of others who accept government benefits because no practical alternative is in sight, but who know it's a lousy system and would like to see it radically changed. So I think Romney was unduly pessimistic to say that no recipient of government largess would ever vote for him. I would not, myself, but that's because I reject the whole paradigm of government; I'd not even vote for Ron Paul. But many others would.
Back, though, to my first advice above: the 47%. I think that's a lot too low.
All government everywhere and in every age has consisted of a parasite group that rules, and a productive group that is by some means caused to keep it handsomely fed. That means that all government is always oligarchic; the society is governed by a few. It could not possibly be any other way, for if it were ruled by a majority, the production would be done by a minority and the governors would be worse off than the producers! From that simple calculation, it's clear that there is no majority rule, never has been and never will be. It's a complete fiction, a swindle. The genius of modern “democratic” government is that the swindle has – so far – been successfully disguised. That's why Romney's slip-up, and the magazine's release of its videotape, is so significant. Unless the spin doctors handle it well, as they may, this could strip away the disguise.
Firstly, about 20 million Americans are working directly for government at all levels, if my research for Transition to Liberty was correct. Then another 40 million are working for companies that do some of their business with government – they are contractors; and some of those 40 million are working predominantly on those contracts. I had no way to calculate how many do so, and took a rough guess that it was half; hence, a total of 40 million are working for government exclusively or largely. Those 40 million are giving value for their pay (actually, their work must be worth more than their pay, or else they would not have their jobs; there would be no point in hiring them), but their pay, benefits, satisfaction, retirement expectations, etc. are what they are drawing from government and what they will lose when it disintegrates. Naturally, they have a strong interest in prolonging the status quo. Count their dependent families too, and that's about (40/140 =) 28% of Americans.
Next, take those receiving cash handouts. 55 million are on Social Security (18% of 300 million), and then 45 million on food stamps (15%) and 8 million are living on unemployment pay (3%). That's a dependent constituency of 36%, to add to the 28%--total so far, 64%.
There is next the array of benefits we all receive and even take for granted, that appear to be “free.” Most roads are non-toll, thus they are free to use. Our children are provided with free schools. When we buy food, government inspectors assure us (free) that proper standards of quality have been met. We are kept safe by ever-vigilant local police forces, and defended by the world's most powerful military. If a criminal harms us, justice is provided free of charge; all being well, we enjoy the satisfaction of seeing the perpetrator punished. If we have a job, government laws protect us from greedy capitalists who might pay us less than a minimum wage. When we consult a physician, we are assured by government that he or she is qualified, and that any drugs prescribed have been exhaustively tested and are safe. When we fly, government gropers make sure no malefactor bombs our plane out of the sky, and government trackers make sure the pilot guides it safely to our destination. For recreation, we have a rich choice of state and national parks to enjoy, all with outstanding natural beauty and all patrolled by government keepers to protect us from harm, all provided free or for a nominal charge. Should we venture on the seas, government guards will sail to our rescue if we hit trouble. If natural disaster hits, government rescuers will come to our aid and manage the emergency. Etc.
In addition, there are very few large companies that don't get priceless protection from competitors, provided by government, and those companies convey to their employees in subtle ways that government is therefore very good for them. The protection comes in the form of a forest of regulations that impede every company about equally, regardless of size – so bears far heavier on the small firm trying to compete with the bigger rival, than on the bigger one defending his turf. Very hard to quantify this, but it's a key part of the deception.
The bottom line is that a huge majority of us all are getting some benefit from government which appears to be provided free of charge. That's part of the above genius. The victims are being swindled, with our own money, into giving sanction to the swindlers. An oligarchy is living off our labors as parasites, yet fools us into thinking we live off theirs!
One useful way to uncover the deception is to construct an à la carte menu. On one side list the goodies people may receive via government, and on the other, list the ways government relieves them of money and liberties. Invite a friend to fill in what he pays, and name the particular goodies he receives and values. Total both sides, and compare.
Help him to take care, and overlook no significant item. It is worth showing him that if he works for government, there should be an entry on both sides of the “menu” or ledger, because the comfortable salary he receives should be balanced by the value of the labor he expends. Will they be equal? Above, I suggested the labor must be worth more than the pay; but let him enter his subjective valuation. It's close enough for government work.
While helping him with those two entries, it might be a good idea to refer him (for good measure) to – it may introduce a new line of thought for him.
There may be a few, for whom the total benefits outweigh the costs. All near the top of the government heap will be in that state; anyone working for the President, for example, will be putting in rather more work than he gets in pay, but he will receive also the vast prestige of working in the White House, and that item on his resumé will enhance the whole of the rest of his career. The prestige is hard to quantify, but is a great source of job satisfaction. Power over other people is what they most enjoy. It's almost beyond price, like a narcotic.
Similarly, a cop on the local beat will thrill to the experience of ordering around men and women who in almost every way are superior human beings; better at relating to others, better at earning an honest living, better at every subject learned in school, etc. Cops are typically inebriated on power, and all that comes extra to a pay rate they could never earn outside government employ.
So yes, a few do come out ahead. But a huge majority loses to government far more than we gain, and the menu analysis reveals it. The deception succeeds only because most of government's victims focus on the few goodies they get and value, but not upon the total that those things cost them. That cost is approximately half of everything we earn, plus the onerous loss of freedom to run our own lives, our own way. Once it is counted, and compared with what sits on the other side of the menu, understanding will dawn. So again, thank you to Mother Jones - and to Mitt's foot, for being in his mouth where it fits so well.

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Jim Davies's picture
Columns on STR: 243

Jim Davies is a retired businessman in New Hampshire who led the development of an on-line school of liberty in 2006, and who wrote A Vision of Liberty" , "Transition to Liberty" and, in 2010, "Denial of Liberty" and "To FREEDOM from Fascism, America!" He started The Zero Government Blog in the same year.
In 2012 Jim launched , to help lead government workers to an honest life.
In 2013 he wrote his fifth book, a concise and rational introduction to the Christian religion called "Which Church (if any)?" and in 2016, an unraveling of the great paradox of "income tax law" with "How Government Silenced Irwin Schiff."