Derek Thompson, senior editor at The Atlantic, wrote on April 16 (citing an analysis from the Joint Committee on Taxation), "Half of American taxpayers owe no federal income tax, and most of those filers actually net tax benefits from federal income taxes."
In fact, though, Mr. Thompson is at pains to point out that the "majority of households who pay no income tax still pay net taxes to the IRS." That's because "workers of all income levels" still pay payroll taxes on their first $106,800 in earnings - levies that actually flow right into the general fund, despite the purposeful illusion that they're somehow set aside in personal Social Security trust accounts for each taxpayer.
The number of American households "who really do pay practically zero overall taxes" is actually about 15 million, "or 10 percent of all taxpayers," Mr. Thompson reports. (Note we're now talking about "workers," sidestepping the question of how many non-workers pay no taxes and still get to vote.)
Thanks to refundable tax credits - the negative income tax - these 15 million filing households "receive more cash from the IRS than they contribute in federal income taxes and payroll taxes," Mr. Thompson writes.
So, are we near the point where 51 percent of Americans can cheerfully vote to tax the remaining 49 percent at no cost to themselves - or not?
Maybe we're asking the wrong question. The concern here is that limited government cannot long survive - the alternative being a tyranny - if the majority of voters, advised that the politicians are raising taxes again, no longer say "Darn! Another bite out of my bank account!" but instead respond, "Great! Sock it to those greedy 'one percenters,' " and, " 'Spread some of their money around' to me!"
How many have now moved from Group A to Group B?
In search of a more nuanced answer, the Heritage Foundation on Feb. 8 posted the annual update to their Index of Dependence on Government, at http://tinyurl.com/6mtj644.
Their finding? "Today, more people than ever before - 67.3 million Americans, from college students to retirees to welfare beneficiaries - depend on the federal government for housing, food, income, student aid, or other assistance once considered to be the responsibility of individuals, families, neighborhoods, churches and other civil society institutions."
Since 1962, "The Index score has grown by more than 15 times its original amount. This means that," after compensating for inflation, "more than 15 times the resources were committed to paying for people who depend on government in 2010 than in 1962," report William Beach and Patrick Tyrrell of Heritage's Center for Data Analysis. The index has now grown by 60.7 percent just since 2001, they report.
"Perhaps the greatest danger is that the swelling ranks of Americans who enjoy government services and benefits for which they pay few or no taxes will lead to a spreading sense of entitlement that is simply incompatible with self-government," the analysts write. "The United States has long reached the point at which it must reverse (this) direction ... or face economic and social collapse."
Who are these Americans on the taxpayer dole? Many smugly assume we're talking only about unmarried welfare queens. But what about Social Security? The federal courts have ruled many times that Social Security taxes can and do flow directly into the General Fund; Today's retirees receive moneys paid in by current young workers, which is why the young cannot be freed from the giant Ponzi scheme under any circumstances.
That's not to say Social Security recipients have larceny in their hearts. They were told all their lives that they could count on these benefits. But does this make it likely they'll ever vote for politicians who vow to disassemble this Ponzi scheme?
And if your kids go to a public school, you're accepting a government handout to the tune of more than $10,000 per child per year, for something you should be funding yourself.
You wouldn't expect the government to feed or clothe your kids -- I hope. So why expect men with guns to seize from your neighbors enough to fund 12 years of the most inefficient institutionalized method known to man of teaching those same kids reading and writing and computational skills that ought to be acquired in four or five - the number of years the typical Founding Father went to school?
The main purpose of this domestic gulag archipelago is to take charge of the kids from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. so moms can work full-time, a step cynically marketed as "women's liberation" but actually made necessary by the fact that the state now requires families to meet twice the tax burden of the average blue-collar wage earner of 1952, who could easily support a family of six on a single income.
Meantime, in order to allow the society to breed enough real leaders to survive a few more decades, the wealthy captains of industry and government are indeed allowed to get their kids "a world-class education," precisely by keeping them miles away from these government schools, though at the price of being required to also fund "publoc school" cattle pens they never use. The youth internment camps are thus our largest income redistribution scheme.
One of the signs of addiction is the degree of panic that sets in when a user's supply is threatened. The very hysteria with which folks now shriek at the prospect of losing these welfare schemes - largely unknown to our great-grandparents before 1930 - shows how close we've now come to the point of no return. Cutting the federal budget in half (for starters) would return us to the spending levels we saw in the late 1990s. Total federal spending in 1995 was $1.5 trillion. It's now $3.8 trillion.
Was anyone shrieking, in 1995, that the government was too small, that children and the elderly were starving in the streets because voracious Uncle Sugar was sucking too little out of the struggling private sector?
Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the Review-Journal and author of the novel "The Black Arrow" and "Send in the Waco Killers." See www.vinsuprynowicz.com.