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On Romney’s “47 percent” comment

If you follow the news, you may already know the infamous comment made by Romney about “47 percent of people” who “are dependent on the government”, “pay no income tax”, and “will vote for the president no matter what”. If you don’t know what all this is about, check this link out. It’s basically a “less than elegant” characterization of those voters who support President Obama. Here is the key quote:

“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax.”

The remark has received many criticisms, many of which focus on the statistical facts behind the words. Julian Sanchez at Cato exposed a deeper problem with what Romney said, called the “fundamental attribution error”. Below is the conclusion:

All of this seems confused. People want goods like health care and financial security. In a social and political environment where those things are provided by government, people will accept them from government. In an environment where they’re provided by the private sector, people will acquire them privately. In the long run, the nature of the broader system will probably influence the frequency in the population of deeper character traits and dispositions like responsibility or resilience—but you can’t legitimately infer a whole lot about people’s preferences between systems from their behavior within systems.

Read the whole thing

Update: Paul Krugman had a great post on the issue, and David Henderson at Econlog added an excellent comment on Krugman’s post.

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