By Teresa Welsh |
I have been a public employee—a taker from government—for almost 40 years. I'm a freeloader/slurper from the public trough. But I'm also producing something—educated citizens and workers, and useful research—that taxpayers' decisions in political markets have determined to be socially valuable.
The washroom attendant in a luxury hotel is a private employee; but is his service really socially useful, or does the fact that customers could easily pick up towels themselves make him just a taker? His employer has determined it is worth charging hotel guests a bit more in order to provide this service. Like me, he is a maker—offering something that society values.
When the washroom attendant and I retire, I will still be paying income tax; he may well not be. Does that mean I'll be a maker, and he a taker? No—the appropriate long-term view asks what people have produced over their entire lives. A retiree who is paying neither income nor FICA taxes is taking back part of what he had made for society.
Someone who has inherited a fortune and never works for pay is taking from society the fruits of his inheritance, especially if he pays little or no tax. Yet he too is a maker—the financial capital he owns creates the physical capital that helps make workers more productive.
The only lifetime taker would be someone who, either by choice or more commonly due to severe physical or mental limitations, never works and lives off some form of government aid his/her entire life. In this workaholic country (we work longer and more weeks than citizens of any other rich country), such people are few—not surprising given the stingy amounts of aid offered in the United States. And a country this rich can afford these few.
Almost all of us are makers and takers. The fakers are those who create the phony distinction between makers and takers, and who for narrow, reprehensible political purposes seek to identify some folks as makers, others as takers. In fact, nearly all of us—even the fakers—are both.
About Daniel S. Hamermesh Professor of Economics at the University of Texas at Austin and Royal Holloway University of London
Daniel Mitchell Fellow at the Cato Institute
Phil Kerpen President of American Commitment