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.

  • http://josh.com Josh

    You post shows either your ignorance or an agenda, my guess would be the latter.

    How does one end up with $14,000,000 in the bank? Certainly not by “doing nothing”. The market doesn’t compensate people with millions who “do nothing”.

    The market compensates based upon their worth and production in the market. As sad as it is to you that a person who is working 56 hours a week at Wal-Mart and Home Depot is not considered a “maker” consider this: if that woman disappeared tomorrow and took all her assets with he, she would be replaced with little effort by Wal-Mart and Home Depot and she wouldn’t take anything away that benefited the market.

    On the other hand, a business owner who has $14 million in the bank has generated enough capital through his innovation and hard work that he can provide employment to dozens or even hundreds of people. The bank can use the money he has deposited to lend out to other business owners or borrowers and make interest on the money he has deposited. In short, the $14 million dollar man would be missed if he disappeared and took his money with him. His employees would lose their jobs, the bank would lose his deposits, the market would lose his ideas.

    That’s the difference between a “maker” and a “taker”.

    Furthermore, you know as well as I do that most people who are “takers” are not working two jobs to make ends meet. And most “makers” who have millions are not “doing nothing”.

    • http://www.ourdime.us/ Dustin

      I really love this comment. It is the exclamation point I needed, but didn’t expect to get. I was accusing conservative followers of this meme of being apologists for modern aristocrats. I figured that was going to get the most attention. But instead this comment comes out and says “damn right I’m an elitist and here’s why”.

      Josh, I can tell that you’re interested in truth and debate or else you wouldn’t be reading and commenting on my blog. But I think you’re really fell for an elitist argument. Is say this because it is an argument I see all the time from conservative leaning (supposed) libertarians. The arguments for and against labor and capital is never applied to both.

      1. You claim that if the working person disappeared tomorrow, that person would easily be replaced. Why is that argument not applied to the wealthy person? If he (and his money) disappeared today. Assuming he was invested in a profitable enterprise, what makes you think another investor wouldn’t show up tomorrow with cash on hand? If dealing with a truly open market(which doesn’t exist, today), you need to apply these arguments evenly.

      2. A major error you made right in the beginning of your comment was where the 14 million dollars came from. I was not talking about money someone earns that is saved in a bank. The person I was talking about already has a 100 million or more in the bank. I have no problem with someone saving what they earned(< -keyword). The "do nothing" was a reference to the money made because they already had money in the bank not to the money already there.

      3. Your claim that "The market doesn’t compensate people with millions who “do nothing”" might(might!) be correct in a truly open market-free enterprise world, but not in the one we live today. Read the article I linked to. The person admitted his money was in a "blind trust" and he did nothing with it, and yet his tax returns show he made 14 million dollars from it.

      And now to nitpick...

      4. As for this claim: "you know as well as I do that most people who are “takers” are not working two jobs". Again, not sure who you mean by "takers". If you mean people on Medicaid or Food Stamps, you might be correct that they don't have TWO jobs. However, most do actually have 1 job that are on food stamps(and use it temporarily) as well as medicaid.

      5. Also, why did you assume the single-parent working 2 jobs was a “she”? I very clearly said “he” when I wasn’t being gender neutral. You might want to reflect on that.

      Based on numbers 4 and 5, You seem to be operating under the myth of the supposed welfare queen that was always a complete fabrication.

      6. In your argument you said that if the rich man disappeared his “employees” would lose their jobs. You’ve made a classic error(one I usually see from amateur austrian economists). You’ve conflated the investor with the entrepreneur. The person I described in the original post was a pure investor who gave his money to someone else. He was not a person running a company. This leads to my final point.

      7. You seem to put a stronger emphasis on money, than on people. Let’s change your story from saying that “the person and money disappears” to just “the person disappears”. In that case you’ll come to a different conclusion of who was more important to the economy. If the Walmart worker disappears you’ll notice the empty shelves and the company will sell less. If the pure investor that I described(not to be confused with the CEO who actually works), no one would notice until it came time to pay him his dividends and he didn’t show up.

      This isn’t to say that having a pure investor isn’t important. Even in a completely freed market they would likely to have a role to play. That’s why I said I don’t flip the argument around to call that person a “taker”. We all have our roles to play. Now let’s let this meme die the horrible death it deserves.

  • jon

    Bravo on the reply.