Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Slate: Return of the 47 Percent: The Right’s Latest Tax Lie, by Michael Lind (New American Foundation):
I am amused to report that my former colleagues at the Heritage Foundation have lost none of their willingness to sacrifice truth to propaganda. The Heritage Foundation has published an Index of Dependence on Government by William W. Beach and Patrick Tyrrell that seeks to bolster Mitt Romney’s theme that at least 47% of Americans are parasitic, government-dependent “takers” rather than “makers”:
Today, more people than ever before 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. The United States reached another milestone in 2010: For the first time in history, half the population pays no federal income taxes. It is the conjunction of these two trends — higher spending on dependence-creating programs, and an ever-shrinking number of taxpayers who pay for these programs — that concerns those interested in the fate of the American form of government.
What caught my eye in this latest piece of Heritage agitprop was this sentence: The United States reached a milestone in 2012 — or the first time in history, half the population pays no federal income taxes.
This is not just wrong. It is an error embarrassing enough to shame even a shameless propaganda mill like the Heritage Foundation.
Heritage implies that a majority of Americans paid federal income taxes throughout American history, presumably back to the 1790s. Nothing could be further from the truth. For much of American history, 100% of the population paid no federal income taxes, because there were none. And the federal income tax began to fall on the middle-class masses, not just the upper classes, only in the 1940s. ... According to the conservative Tax Foundation, which has a friendlier relationship with facts than does the Heritage Foundation, as recently as 1940 the percentage of those who filed (a group smaller than the working-age population) who owed federal income taxes was 49.4%. In that year, Republican presidential candidate Wendell Willkie missed the opportunity to sneer at “the 49%.”
It was only during World War II, with the institution of the income tax withholding system, that a majority of Americans became subject to federal income taxation. If it were accurate, the sentence in the Heritage Foundation’s “Index of Dependence on Government” would read: The United States reached a milestone in 2012 — for the first time since World War II, half the population pays no federal income taxes.