Fifty-four million Americans pay not a penny to the IRS. That leaves 91 million shouldering the full weight of the supersized federal government. A Tax Foundation analysis notes that the number of freeloaders has been rising steadily since the 1980s. The freeloaders will soon make up the majority.
Mitt Romney stepped into hot water last year when he was caught telling a group of supporters that the "47 percent" on the public dole were a danger to the republic. Telling the truth in an impolitic way is risky, and Democrats used the remark to portray him as an insensitive rich guy. The doubts he expressed about the risks of the dole were expressed before him by the Founding Fathers debating the language of the Constitution. Fortunately for all of us, the Founding Fathers lived in times when public men were expected to speak frankly and not worry about the politically incorrect.
James Madison spoke of how the right to vote was fundamental to preserving liberty. If property owners were the only citizens allowed to vote, he said, "the rights of persons may be oppressed," as they were in feudal times. But "extend it equally to all, and the rights of property or the claims of justice may be overruled by a majority without property." We're only a few percentage points away from seeing what happens when a selfish majority pays no taxes.
Government has aimed at this tipping point since the administration of FDR and his New Deal. Obamacare may be the long-awaited splash of cold water in the faces of us all. The young and healthy who voted for President Obama with such enthusiasm now see how the Affordable Care Act requires them to pay for the health care of others.
Such giveaways aren't limited to those who pay no income tax. Households earning up to $67,000 a year receive more in net federal benefits than they pay in taxes. We've passed the point where the majority of Americans contribute their fair share to society. The top 1 percent pay for 70.6 percent of the government burden, giving far more than they take. They can afford to pay a little more, but when others get more in benefits than they contribute in taxes, they will eagerly support more taxes for the expansion of benefits.
There's a straightforward solution to this dilemma. Fix the universally hated tax code by ripping out as many of its 70,000 pages of credits, deductions and loopholes as possible. Easier said than done, of course. Special-interest groups will fight to preserve their breaks, and when special-interest groups make up half the nation, the solution becomes impossible. That's what makes tax reform now crucial.