At the risk of giving it more attention than it deserves, I want to go back to Mitt Romney's remarks about "47%" of the people being unwilling to vote for him. Part of the problem with these remarks is that, as Rich Lowry points out, they confuse three distinct groups.
Lowry goes on the characterize the remarks as a bad idea poorly stated. To the extent that Romney was suggesting that people who pay no income tax will not vote for him, he's wrong.
Nor would it be fair to say that everyone who does not pay income tax or receives governmental assistance does not take personal responsibility for themselves.
But given that Romney doesn't call for raising taxes on low income people or abolishing social welfare programs, I don't think he meant to say that. I think he was trying to stay - in a cobbed up way - that there are voters that he has no chance to win over and that a substantial reason for that is that they benefti from and do not pay for an ever increasing web of entitlements. Because of this, they have little interest in controlling the growth of the social welfare state. This, I think he meant to say, is a bad thing.
And that was a good point poorly stated.
Having large percentages of the public who don’t pay taxes and receive government aid is probably not healthy for democracy. As Madison wrote in Federalist No. 10, permitting a majority to exact money from a minority is a dangerous thing:
“The apportionment of taxes on the various descriptions of property is an act which seems to require the most exact impartiality; yet there is, perhaps, no legislative act in which greater opportunity and temptation are given to a predominant party to trample on the rules of justice. Every shilling with which they overburden the inferior number, is a shilling saved to their own pockets.”
This doesn’t mean that there ought not be a social safety net or provision of public services. No one who followed Romney’s record in Massachusetts or the positions that he has taken in the campaign can make the case that he disagrees (even if they want more government than he does.) Madison’s observation does suggest that there is a “tipping point” – a stage at which the disconnect between the receipt of benefits and the obligation to pay towards them becomes problematic.
Cross posted at Purple Wisconsin