The rich actually get more government transfer money, in raw figures, than the poor do. In fact, the group that gets the least money is the bottom 20%. The poorest of America's poor receive the least of America's transfer payments. The biggest payments go to.... wait for it... the middle class. But even the rich make out better than the poor do.
A couple intractable puzzles of modern politics are compressed into these few lines. We prescribe self-reliance as the cure for the poor, but apparently have no enthusiasm to help the medicine go down with anyone else. A classical republic, recall, educates by example: the nobles in the upper ranks demonstrate virtue in their own lives as instruction to the rest of us. Well, the poor have picked up at least one lesson from our modern nobles when it comes to rent-seeking. Perhaps we're more of a classical republic than we let on.
And the rest of us, the middle-class -- if you're reading a blog, you're it -- we're the worst of all, we're told. All our home-mortgage-interest deductions, healthcare credits, charitable deductions, social-security payments, tax-favored education-savings plans -- why, we're just as bad as the bankers and welfare queens!
Somewhere under the hood, beneath specific policy disagreements, there is a vague, unexpressed frustration with modern politics, and this is it. That no matter how much you talk of helping the poor, or curbing the "one percent," or helping the rest of us just raise our families in peace, in the end the only thing government can think to do is mail money back and forth across the continent. And then lecture us about none being without sin when it comes to that anachronistic virtue of self-reliance. The cynic was right: we didn't build that. Now shut up and cash your check.
Tim Kowal is an attorney, an adjunct professor at the Fowler School of Law at Chapman University, a director of the Orange County Federalist Society, and a commissioner on the OC Human Relations Commission. All opinions are my own. Follow Tim on Twitter at @timkowal.