I largely based the above cartoon on this table:
|Percentage of Program Beneficiaries Who Report They “Have Not Used a Government Social Program”|
|Program||“No, Have Not Used a Government Social Program”|
|529 or Coverdell||64.3|
|Home Mortgage Interest Deduction||60.0|
|Hope or Lifetime Learning Tax Credit||59.6|
|Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit||51.7|
|Earned Income Tax Credit||47.1|
|Social Security—Retirement & Survivors||44.1|
|Veterans Benefits (other than G.I. Bill)||41.7|
|Social Security Disability||28.7|
|Supplemental Security Income||28.2|
|Government Subsidized Housing||27.4|
|Source: Suzanne Mettler, “Reconstituting the Submerged State: The Challenge of Social Policy Reform in the Obama Era,” Perspectives on Politics (September 2010): 809. (pdf link)|
From The Baseline Scenario:
Mettler distinguishes between visible federal programs, such as Pell Grants and Social Security, which are administered by government agencies and therefore are more recognizable as government programs, and submerged programs such as the mortgage interest deduction or 529 accounts. She found that the more visible programs a person uses, “the more likely he or she was to agree that government had helped in times of need.” Benefiting from submerged programs, however, had no impact on people’s perception that the government had helped them—even in the case of things like HOPE or Lifetime Learning tax credits, which help people pay for eduction. In fact, “the greater the number of tax breaks an individual had benefited from, the more likely he or she was to disagree that government had provided opportunities for an improved standard of living” (pp. 41–43, emphasis added). (This is after controlling for socio-economic characteristics.)
In short, the way our government currently distributes goodies makes it possible for people to think that they are paragons of individual self-reliance while still being enormous beneficiaries of other people’s tax dollars. That explains a lot about politics today.
I’m contemplating changing the wording of the final panel. Right now, it seems too much like a slam on the Tea Party, whereas what I really want to criticize is broader than just the Tea Party.
UPDATE: Alternative ending.