June 19, 2018
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‘Moocher’ idea unsupported

Sun Journal, Lewiston (Nov. 15)

As Republicans try to interpret what happened on Election Day, a dubious explanation is getting a lot of attention.

It holds that Republicans lost because the country has reached an unfortunate tipping point where people who pay no income taxes and/or receive government benefits now outnumber productive taxpayers.

Those people, sometimes called the “moochers” or even “parasites” in conservative circles, voted to protect and enlarge their government handouts by electing Barack Obama.

In Maine, the respected Republican Phil Harriman recently wrote in the BDN that, “America and Maine have fundamentally transformed into a culture where government is the heart and soul of what voters want and need.”

There’s even been a book written on the subject: ” A Nation of Moochers,” which came out in January.

This is a convenient theory for Republicans: We are right, it’s the rest of the country that’s gone rotten. Convenient, yes, but entirely unsupported by the facts.

Political scientists and economists have long marveled at the tendency of both rich and poor citizens to vote against their own economic self-interest. This has happened in election after election as people more often vote their hearts and beliefs rather than their wallets and investments.

You can see it clearly on the state and national level.

Romney got some of his strongest support in three of Maine’s poorest counties, Washington and Somerset, while actually winning in Piscataquis County.

While it seems cruel to say it, these would definitely qualify as moocher counties according to the theory. They have low family incomes, high poverty rates (between 16 and 19 percent) and receive large slices of government transfer payments as a proportion of income (between 29 and 36 percent).

Yet they gave Romney strong support.

It must be said, of course, that a big chunk of transfer payments go to “moochers” like people on federal pensions, military pensions and Social Security, people who might be very surprised to know some people think they are mooching.

If there are two clear-cut “producer” counties in the state, they are York and Cumberland counties.

They have high family incomes, low poverty rates (about 10 percent) and receive the smallest share of government transfer payments (about 14 and 16 percent respectively).

Yet these “producers” supported Obama over Romney 62 percent to 35 percent in York County and 62 to 34 in Cumberland.

If people were voting for their economic self-interest, the results should have been reversed.

On a national scale, Maine would be a “moocher” state. We receive more from the federal government than we pay in federal taxes, and we did favor Obama over Romney.

So, in Maine, maybe Obama did win based on the moocher turnout. But nationally the evidence to the contrary is even more compelling.

The Economist magazine recently rated the states based upon whether they are “black” or “red” on federal revenue.

In other words, by which states pay the most federal taxes compared to what they receive from the federal government.

The top “producer” states in order were: Delaware, Minnesota, New Jersey, Illinois, Connecticut, New York, Ohio and Michigan, all of which went to Obama and all of which paid way more in federal taxes than they received back in federal transfers and spending.

The biggest moocher states: Mississippi, West Virginia, Montana, Alabama and North Dakota all supported Romney.

It simply doesn’t make economic sense. Why would very poor states vote for the party associated with cutting the government assistance they depend upon so heavily?

Unless, as we said before, other issues were more important to them, like cultural and religious values.

There is little doubt that people in this country are more dependent on government benefits than they were 100 years ago.

There is also no doubt that taking some of those benefits away from people — whether they be old people, poor people, middle-class homeowners or millionaires — will be difficult and painful.

But we have dug ourselves a massive fiscal hole and that’s what is required.

We remain convinced that Americans are willing to sacrifice for the common good IF they believe the burden will be fairly distributed.

True leadership would be Republicans and Democrats developing a gradual austerity plan And convincing the American people it is in their best interest.

Over the next six months we will see whether we have elected courageous leaders or the usual special-interest hacks.

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