Since the end of the presidential election last week, I’ve been seeing a lot of tweets and blog posts that will say something like “takers outvoted the makers”(see here, here, and here for examples). I find the “makers and takers” narrative fascinating. I’ve found few other narratives that so quickly and easily divides Americans and get us to hate each other. I wanted to take a closer look at the supposed logic behind it.
“Makers and Takers” is a right-wing meme. The basic story is thus: The economy is make up of people who make stuff and people who take stuff. The takers take from the makers – usually using the power of government. The story comes from Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. But she called them producers and looters.
Unfortunately, as often as conservatives will refer to “takers” as the problem, they rarely define or identify who these nasty people we’re supposed to hate are. Mostly, it seems to be based entirely on whether or not you pay federal income tax(payroll and other federal taxes don’t count). That is the impression I get from Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, and other random conservatives. The conservative commentator, Mary Matalin, helps clarify a little more. Old people and veterans don’t count, only people who use any anti-poverty program.
So, let’s look at two different people. Let’s take a single parent with two children. The parent works 2 jobs. 28 hours a week at Walmart, and another job at Home Depot working another 28 hours(give or take since schedules in retail shops tend to fluctuate). At each job this person works hard and therefore earns above minimum wage… about $8.50. Neither job pays benefits. This translates to just under $2,000 a month(before payroll taxes and state income taxes). That makes him qualified for a small amount of food stamps and for their kids to get Medicaid. In right-wing language, this 56 hours a week worker is a “taker” and a “moocher” and a “looter”.
Let’s take another person. Say, a former presidential candidate who made 14 million dollars last year by doing nothing. He pays about a 15% tax rate in income taxes. He didn’t do anything except give his money to a banker. But since he paid income taxes, In right-wing language, that makes him a “maker” and a “producer”.
In this scenario, I question the right-wing framing of maker and taker. Who is truly the maker, and who is the taker? Are the minimum wage (or just above minimum wage) workers really taking? Is that work of packing your groceries and loading the shelves that meaningless? Is the work of giving someone else your money so important that it is the equivalent of MAKING something?
I would be tempted to reverse it and call the rich guy the “takers” and the workers (who are actually WORKING) the “makers”. But I find this whole narrative odious and would rather see it die than co-opted. We’re all in this together and we all have something to contribute to society. If we think individuals are taking advantage of the system let’s deal with that. Let’s not deal with it by demonizing the most vulnerable people in our society.