Well, Steven Taylor really stepped in it yesterday at Outside the Beltway. It all began with an op-ed by Glenn Reynolds at Washington Examiner, “It’s takers versus makers and these days the takers are winning”.
Glenn’s op-ed starts with a hat tip to a book by Charles Sykes, A Nation Of Moochers, contrasts “takers”, those who receive government subsidies with “makers”, presumably those who don’t, and continues with specific and generalized complaints about the state of Uncle Sugar. Here’s a pretty representative sample:
With federal borrowing at unsustainable levels, with the bailed-out auto companies and banks not looking particularly healthy, and with the steady drip-drip of financial scandals moving toward the point that even an Obama-friendly media will have to cover them, we appear to be approaching a crisis point.
and Glenn then gave his op-ed a bit of publicity at his popular blog, Instapundit. That’s when the fun began. My colleague at OTB, Steven Taylor, responded with what I thought was a pretty mild and temperate critique of the op-ed:
A fatal flaw in the maker/taker dichotomy (and which renders it useless) is that we do not have a situation in which Group A is made up those who only “take” and Group B is those who only “make.” Even if we start off with the example that Reynolds uses to launch his column (farm subsidies), the bottom line is that this does not fit the maker/taker categories. If we consult a list of the top recipients of farm subsidies we get a list of corporations (see here). So, on the one hand they are “takers” of government subsidies, and yet on the other it is nonsensical to not also call them “makers.” Of course, the fact that Reynolds’ evidence of this particular problem are lyrics from a country song, perhaps I am expecting too much nuance.
Dr. Taylor concludes:
It is ideology, not analysis. It certainly eschews the realities of policymaking. This is a failing I assume from politicians on the stump. It is not one that I expect from law professors.
I didn’t see this as a slur but, rather, hortatory, a call for greater rigor. Glenn saw it differently and said so on his blog:
APPARENTLY, MY “MAKERS AND TAKERS” COLUMN SUCKS, and I should kill myself or something.
at which point Glenn’s fans descended into the comments thread of Steven’s post, dinging other comments with which they disagreed and making comments of their own, some substantive, some not.
To be honest I think there are far too many takers and far too few makers. As Elbert Hubbard (an early 20th century writer, not the guy who invented Scientology) put it “When 51% of the people want to give rather than get, I’ll be a socialist”. At the top of the list of takers I’d put most of the members of Congress, far too many of whom enter the Congress virtually as paupers and emerge after 30 years as millionaires, lobbyists (I would amend the Constitution in ways that would render the modern practice of lobbying impractical), and technocrats and apparatchiks of all stripes. I have a little list.
However, here’s my question: how do you tell the makers from the takers? Like Steven I don’t think there’s a bright line. Let me give a few case studies.
My mom spent her career as a public school teacher, deliberately seeking out the toughest, poorest schools in St. Louis. When she retired she collected a small pension, received no healthcare benefits, and received a small payment from the Social Security payment (a result of my dad’s contributions). The Medicare system probably paid out less on her behalf throughout her life than she had paid in. She avoided doctors, took almost no medications, elected for palliative care only in her final days, and never had any of the expensive, acute care that runs up massive medical bills.
Maker or taker?
I have never attended a public school, never had a child who attended a public school, never worked for the government, and have paid into Social Security and Medicare for most of the last 50 years. I collect no payments of any kind from the federal government. I have had a few government contracts over the years from the city, state, and federal governments, I worked darned hard to fulfill them, and I was paid reasonably for my efforts. I am defended by the American military, the air I breathe is clearer due to federal laws and enforcement, Lake Michigan is a lot cleaner than it was forty years ago due to federal laws and enforcement, and I drive on public roads (since this is Illinois I frequently pay tolls, most of which go to pay the pensions of retired highway system employees).
I plan to follow my mom’s example on healthcare and although it’s mathematically possible for me to recoup what I’ve paid into the Social Security system, it’s unlikely.
Maker or taker?
IMO a little more introspection is called for by all and sundry. Nearly all of us are takers at some point in our lives. Some of us, through the grace of God, are makers.
James Joyner weighs in with a typically reasonable, temperate analysis of the issue and the discussion:
First, Glenn’s summary on Steven’s post–”and I should kill myself or something”–is great for driving traffic (thanks, again!) but an unfair reading, to put it mildly. Rather, Steven found the core argument of the column simplistic and expected more nuance from someone of Glenn’s stature. Yes, Glenn is most famous as a pundit–an insta-pundit, no less–but he’s an enormously accomplished legal thinker, not a talk radio host.
He continues with four more considered, substantive points.