Daniel J. Mitchell

Mitt Romney is catching a lot of flak for his surreptitiously recorded remarks about 47 percent of voters automatically being in the Obama column because they don’t pay federal income tax and thus see themselves as beneficiaries of big government.

Since I’ve warned about dependency and raised the alarm that we risk becoming another Greece unless entitlements are reformed, one might think I agree with the former Massachusetts governor.

Not quite. I think Romney raised an important issue, but he cited the wrong statistic and drew an unwarranted conclusion.

Here’s what I said to Neil Cavuto about the controversy.

To augment on those remarks, here’s where Romney was wrong.

Yes, we have almost half of households not paying federal income tax, and I recognize that there’s a risk on an unhealthy political dynamic if people begin to think they get government for free, but those people are not necessarily looking for freebies from government. Far from it. Many of them have private sector jobs and believe in self reliance and individual responsibility. Or they’re students, retirees, or others who don’t happen to have enough income to pay taxes, but definitely don’t see themselves as wards of the state.

If Romney wanted to be more accurate, he should have cited the share of households receiving goodies from the government. That number also is approaching 50 percent and it probably is much more correlated with the group of people in the country who see the state as a means of living off their fellow citizens. But even that correlation is likely to be very imprecise since some government beneficiaries – such as Social Security recipients – spent their lives in the private sector and are taking benefits simply because they had no choice but to participate in the system.


Daniel J. Mitchell

Daniel J. Mitchell is a top expert on tax reform and supply-side tax policy at the Cato Institute.
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