47% Moocher

When I was a kitling, getting my career started, I worked through a number of years during which I didn’t make enough money to pay federal income taxes. I did pay self-employment tax, which is essentially both halves of the Social Security tax. Writers and other self-employed people enjoy bitching and moaning about having to pay both halves of the tax, but, you know… everybody pays both halves. It’s only that if you’re employed by someone other than yourself, your employer pays the other half and it doesn’t feel so much like it comes out of your paycheck. Even though, of course, it does.

Apparently, investing in my career — putting the money I earned back into my business — makes me one of those lazy good-for-nothing handout-wanting victim-feeling non-personally-responsible entitlement-demanding government-money-mooching freeloaders so despised by Mr. Romney.

Part of the 47% who will never, ever vote for him.

He’s got that last right.

Never mind that I was supporting myself. I’m puzzled as to why supporting oneself while developing a career — a small business — doesn’t count as being personally responsible, but as far as Mr. Romney is concerned, it doesn’t.

When I did make enough money to pay income taxes, I felt pretty proud of myself. Income taxes became a little bit painful when income averaging went away (I still miss it, because the income of a writer tends to be boom or bust from year to year), but I felt that I was more or less a grown-up, and contributing to the general wellbeing.

However, paying federal income taxes still didn’t turn me into someone likely to vote for anyone who acts as mean and callous as Mr. Romney. Even making a good deal of money in alternate leap years with eclipses and blue moons didn’t do that.

When Mr. Romney was called on paying a low tax rate on his enormous income, he said “I don’t pay more [taxes] than are legally due and frankly if I had paid more than are legally due I don’t think I’d be qualified to become president. I’d think people would want me to follow the law and pay only what the tax code requires.” [Forbes 7/31/2012]

How is Mr. Romney’s strategy for his enormous income different from following tax laws and paying no income taxes on a low income? How is it different from following tax laws that permitted me to invest — with my own money — in my career while I was building it?

The “Cut taxes! Cut taxes! Cut taxes!” refrain troubles me. Discussions of taxes become toxic in short order. People have been persuaded that they fall on hard times because their taxes are too high.

But it isn’t true.

We fall on hard times because our wages and salaries — and the advance for a first novel, which is little more now than it was in 1975 when my first novel was published — are stagnant.

Dreamsnake by Vonda N. McIntyre (new cover)For example, Fawcett Gold Medal paid me an advance of $3500 for The Exile Waiting. In 1975, I could live for a year on $3500, frugally, while I wrote Dreamsnake. [i]

A friend who recently received $4000 for her first novel could not live for a year on that advance.[ii]

We fall on hard times because while the productivity of our country has increased, the people who have increased it haven’t participated in the benefits. Most of the benefits go to the richest members of our society.

A trollish comment on my Facebook page announced, “Rich people deserve all the money they get because they work very, very hard.”

Maybe they do work hard. But do they work 500 to 1000 times as hard as a typical midlist novelist or accountant or vegetable grower? Do they work 2000 times as hard as my friend who cleans houses for a living? I bet they do not.

Why is it OK if the productivity of our society gushes up to the richest people, while the people who create the productivity participate little if at all in those gains? Why is it OK for big companies to make billions in profits while squeezing their workers to the point where a full-time worker is eligible for food stamps? Why is income distribution upward considered fine and dandy? Why is it “socialist” or “class warfare” or “Eek! Dirty hippy commie!” to suggest that just maybe the people who create the wealth in the first place deserve to have some of it?

“Taxes are what we pay for a civilized society” is a phrase usually attributed to Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. This is what the President was saying when he said, “You didn’t build that.” Roads, bridges, hydroelectric plants, water systems, public health, education, basic research, the Postal Service, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid: programs that directly or indirectly benefit everyone.

Whether they make enough to pay federal income taxes or not.


[i] Tobias Buckell’s valuable survey shows that recent first novel advances average about $5000, and that includes the rare five-figure advance.

[ii] In the meantime, executive salaries have expanded from twenty-five times the compensation of the average worker to an average of more than two hundred times for Fortune 50 companies. The extremes run in the 1700x range.



47% Moocher — 26 Comments

  1. Sigh, as an accountant and a writer there are so very very many things I could say about Romney’s ignorant comment, but people don’t want to read a rant that long. You said it nicely, thank you. Rich people don’t work any harder than the rest of us. They earn interest and dividends and capital gains that don’t require an ounce of work and aren’t taxable on the same scale as our work. They buy “investments” for losses to balance out anything they might be taxed on, then cash in when they retire.

    While my brother, who has worked hard and paid taxes all his life is now disabled and living on next to nothing in a duplex where the rent on one side pays his mortgage. Yeah, there’s a victim begging for government hand-outs, right?

    Romney needs to live out here in Real People neighborhoods sometime, listen to Real People talk. His country club buddies complaining about taxes on their yachts don’t quite qualify.

    • Thanks, Pat. Did you see David Brooks’ NYT column, “Thurston Howell Romney” where Brooks ties himself into 4th-dimensional Klein bottle pretzel knots trying to critique Mr. Romney on the one hand and persuade readers that he’s really a nice guy on the other? It made my head spin.

      What struck me hardest, and what almost no one has commented on, was Brooks’ offhand remark:

      Sure, there are some government programs that cultivate patterns of dependency in some people. I’d put federal disability payments and unemployment insurance in this category.

      He does not, of course, offer any suggestion as to what disabled people should do to get out there and get undependent, or how people on unemployment can get employed when there are no jobs.

      A friend of mine with mad skilz spent a year and a half relentlessly searching for a job. She had to move (which wiped out her last remaining savings) in order to find one.

      I was appalled at Mr. Brooks’ offhand comment.


  2. When Romney said, “I don’t pay more [taxes] than are legally due and frankly if I had paid more than are legally due I don’t think I’d be qualified to become president. I’d think people would want me to follow the law and pay only what the tax code requires,” my first thought was that that statement alone made him a lousy possibility for President. Because he doesn’t think he owes the country any more than he’s contractually obligated for….he is a skinflint, a miser, unwilling to share one penny more–or one minute more–than he’s forced to. Will he give his whole heart and mind to being a good President, should he be elected?

    No…he’s said it right here. He’ll do what he has to, and grudge it. He’s shown that in the campaign as well: has he taken the opportunity, in all his traveling around, to educate himself, to learn more about the country and people he proposes to lead? Has he investigated and learned what life is like for the homeless, for the disabled, for people of color, for people on the bottom of the income scale? Clearly, he has not. Has he learned more about science, about the realities of (for instance) climate change, medicine and health issues people face? Clearly, he has not. Has he learned more about this nation’s relationship to other countries? Clearly, he has not. He has squandered months and months of time in which he could have been learning what he clearly does not know as he traveled around campaigning–listening to those he does not agree with, not just the people paying $50K/plate to hear him speak. This, on top of a similar waste in his earlier life, when he had years to learn what happened to the workers Bain threw out of jobs, years to investigate “institutional poverty,” makes it clear that he, even more than GWB, does not think there’s anything he needs to learn. He won’t admit mistakes–even flat out lies–and he won’t listen to “nay-sayers,” as Bush put it.

    This country was not founded, and did not survive and thrive, on the basis of unbridled selfishness. Cooperation was always part of the deal, and sometimes the 90%. When John Hancock said “We must all hang together, or assuredly we will all hang separately”….he laid the foundation for the nation and like most of the founders put in a lot more than “what the tax code requires.” So have many more citizens–sometimes in taxes, not taking every break they could, sometimes in other contributions. Had Romney been around at the time of the Revolution, he’d have been on the other side.

    • Your complaint would have considerably more validity if he didn’t frequently, often, and willingly do much more than is required, both in volunteering and charity.

      Paying more taxes than you owe is a peculiar standard of generosity.

      • Mary, he is welcome to use all the tax loopholes he can eat. What he isn’t welcome to do, in my opinion, is to use the loopholes for his own benefit while simultaneously trashing me (to put this on a personal level) for following the same tax law in order to get my career started, when I was a pup. Somehow this makes him a brilliant businessman and me a government-dependent moocher.

        Cognitive dissonance, much?


    • Also, not to disagree with the feeling that inspired your comment, it is probably important to remember that one of the reasons the American revolution started in the first place was irritation at paying taxes. Notably they were taxes meant to pay for a war that took place in America and it might seem a little unfair to put the cost for that war entirely on the citizens of the British Isles, while the people who most directly benefited from it didn’t pay at all. But our revolutionary heroes didn’t agree.

      • But it wasn’t simply “irritation at paying taxes;” the rallying cry was against “taxation without representation.” Their money was being taken away, without them being given any say in who spent it or on what. Leaving out those latter two words (as recent discourse has tended to do) massively distorts what the issue at stake was.

        • Actually, it was the debt incurred to various English factors and tradespeople for wine and luxury good by the Virginia elite, as well as their fear that since the British courts had made slavery illegal in England, they would get around to making it illegal in the colonies too, that pushed those guys to wanting independence. \

          There were also other reasons, such as wanting Indian lands while the English traders wanted trade in furs and so on, and even more than that, including the stifling of upward mobility by the class system that locked in who could rise to the top in administration, military and — then the Church, which everyone had to pay toward, whether they were practicing Church of England or not — and even more than that!.

          In terms of that debt, it didn’t work out so well. The debt was still there after Independence. Which forced poor Mr. Jefferson to change his mind about the evils of slavery and see generational slavery in perpetuity to be a positive good — for him.

          • Not a historian, happy to be corrected. I think my real point was simply that it’s always a bit of a problematic rhetorical device to say ‘this country was (not) founded on X principles.’ Though there were a lot of interesting principles proposed and debated at the time it takes both actual knowledge (like Foxessa so kindly provided) and a bit of wiggling to figure out how these principles might apply in these altered contexts.

            I think mainly, after the Tea Party crazy, I have a low tolerance for anyone claiming that ‘our heroic founders’ told us everything we need to know about governing a country. It was a great experiment, but unlike a real experiment, we really don’t want it to fail, which means it’s okay to not follow the instructions when we think we have a better plan. As I tell my students, presenting the opinion of an authority as fact is no better than presenting your own unfounded opinion as fact. Evidence is key.

            Taxation without representation is a wonderful rallying cry, but it also proposes the idea that if parliament had been adjusted to allow for representatives from the colonies, there would have been no revolution. Since it’s a counterfactual, we can’t really know, though considering parliament’s usual method of representation – where a person running often has little connection to the community – it suggests that representation wouldn’t have actually changed anything. And regardless, one overreaching thought was simply that what was good for the UK was not what was good for the colonies, whether that involved issues of slavery, or trade, or taxation. But we can’t say that there isn’t a slight parallelism between modern day Americans resisting paying taxes because they see no apparent personal benefit, and colonials resenting taxes for the same reasons. Unfortunately, the current Americans are rather too well represented.

        • Thanks to Marie, who beat me to the comment, and to Foxessa, who points out that the situation was a lot more complicated than what we read in history books.

          My own point is that “Cut taxes! Cut taxes! Cut taxes!” isn’t going to solve either the problems of the country (decaying infrastructure, crowded classrooms, &c. &c. &c.) or the problems of citizens (who work to increase the national wealth but do not participate in the increase of wealth).

          The folks controlling the wealth, many of whom wear piety on their sleeves, pay little attention to “Do not bind the mouths of the kine that treadeth out the grain.”


    • Hi Elizabeth,

      I don’t have a huge problem with his following the tax code to minimize his tax liability.

      I do have a problem with his following it, saying he has to follow it precisely in order to be qualified to be elected president, and then trashing me (I did take personally his comment denigrating anyone who pays 0 in income taxes) for following the same code in order to invest my own money in my own business. In good years to follow I paid considerable federal income tax, but that doesn’t count. At some points in my life my federal income tax liability has been 0, so I’m a moocher, hobbled by dependency, a net drain on the country.

      I resent this characterization thoroughly.

      But I think what I have the most problem with is a tax code that redistributes wealth upward. Where is the anti-redistribution outrage when this happens? People in the USA work harder and harder for less and less. They are creating the wealth and productivity pie, while people like Mr. Romney get to eat it.


  3. Thank you, Vonda for making that point about the direction the distribution of wealth travels.

    I’ve yet to see a pundit or journalist note that our capitalist system is already set up for a redistribution of wealth—from the labor of the people at the broad bottom of the pyramid to the few at the lofty, gleaming top of the pyramid. It makes perfect sense that a civilized society would want to make sure that the redistribution of wealth was benefiting all levels of society—and even most especially those that create the wealth.

    If the base of the pyramid crumbles, the whole structure falls.

    This makes me appreciate all the more the outcry from the likes of Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Ted Turner and George Lucas to the effect that the wealthy should give more back to society because society has given them so much more.

    Take George Lucas, for example. This is man who understands that the phrase “fan base” isn’t just a throw away concept. The fans of Star Wars properties are the base of his personal pyramid and he knows it.

    • Hi Maya,

      People of my generation grew up believing that if you work hard enough, you can succeed.

      But when everything you work for goes to manipulators who take over your company and strip you of the benefits — especially, in my opinion, profit sharing — that you’ve worked for, that whole “work hard and succeed” becomes pretty hollow.


  4. And suppose we talk about currencies other than money. What investment has Romney and his family made, in the defense of this country? Mitt himself dodged the Vietnam draft; his five sons also did not serve. Who’s mooching on whom, when we’re talking about paying in blood?

    • Brenda, it seems to me that one big problem we have as a nation is that families like yours understand what you’re saying, while a large majority of the rest of us really don’t. We may think we do, maybe we do understand intellectually. But on a personal, visceral level? I don’t think we do.

      What did you think about the Senate’s vote to kill the new veteran’s bill?


      • I am by no means alone in holding Congress in complete contempt. There is nothing I would believe beneath them. (I wrote a story once, in which a terrorist set off a pocket nuke in a men’s room at the Dept. of Commerce in downtown DC. Yellow to the core, a craven Congress immediately moved the capital of the nation to Indianapolis; hijinks ensued.)

  5. So, this is it? Another blog I come to for reading and writing advice is going to turn into a political dogfight forum? How is this helpful to readers and writers? What does this accomplish that thousands of openly-avowed political blogs aren’t already doing?

    • Personally, I found the post was most interesting for the explanation of how this attitude affects the writer. Writing is not the sort of career that instantly makes money, and it’s important to consider whether our country is actually a place where people can actually have careers, or if we will destroy everything but hobbyists, writing in the scraps of time between their three subsistence jobs, and never getting remuneration for their work.
      (And not that there aren’t attacks coming in from all sides, including the creeping idea that paying for art reduces its artistic value.)

    • Allen, Rosemary —

      I’m very puzzled by Allen’s comment. The BVC Blog has hundreds of posts about writing (some by me), and reading (also some by me), but has never been only about writing and reading.

      It’s almost as if Allen hadn’t paid much attention to the blog but only wanted to complain that I’d written something he wasn’t very interested in reading. When I have written essays about writing and reading, Allen has not, in my memory, commented on them.

      My essay above is, at its base, about my own career and getting it started and the way the tax code helped me do that — if by rules that cause Mr. Romney to consider me a government-dependent moocher.

      The business of writing is as important to creating a successful writing career as is one’s talent and study and practice.


      • There are people who believe that writers are air ferns, subsisting upon their Art alone, but you will never find a writer who believes that. We can starve or be evicted or die for want of chemo just like anybody. Unquestionably the most popular feature of the otherwise fractions Science-fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) is their Emergency Medical Fund. You may have seen EMF fundraisers now and again; it has existed for decades to make loans to writers for medical payments. If Obamacare can make the EMF history, we will all be deeply grateful to the point of tears.

  6. Thank you, Cara. I think that was Vonda’s major point at this time. Investing in writers is very good business, ultimately. Entertainment is our second biggest export from the US, after military. I’d rather export stories!

    I used to carry a snippet of a quote from I believe it was James Mitchner, talking about the investment America made in him. He grew up poor, and was completely educated by the then-great American educational system. The money generated from the works he created had been calculated in the millions — and he wasn’t done creating. His works will continue to move into ebooks, into movies and television.

    Investing in American artists of all kinds makes sense.

  7. Thumbs up, Vonda. I wrote a similar piece but haven’t posted it because, well, well-behaved authors shouldn’t have politics or religion. I’m so glad you’re not well-behaved.

    • Ann, who ever told you that? They’re full of it. That’s ridiculous. You may not want to discuss sensitive issues (or any particular issues) in public, that’s your right. But why on earth are they telling you — who on earth is telling you — that you can’t express your opinion?


  8. Hi, Vonda and all.

    Popping my head for the first time in too long, but I had to read this. Then I had to stand so I could cheer properly.

    Then I had to sit back down and tell you so.

    Vonda, may I share this link? Thank you, so much.