We Are The 53 Percent

In response to a poignant collection of tales of suffering from the worst economy in decades, some conservative activists have put up a juvenile collection of "suck it, losers" posts.

In response to a poignant collection of tales of suffering from the worst economy in decades, some conservative activists have put up a juvenile collection of “suck it, losers” posts.

Suzy Khimm, WaPo WonkBlog (“Conservatives launch “We are the 53 percent” to criticize 99 percenters“):

Conservative activists have created a Tumblr called “We are the 53 percent” that’s meant to be a counterpunch to the viral “We are the 99 percent” site that’s become a prominent symbol for the Occupy Wall Street movement. The Tumblr is supposed to represent the 53 percent of Americans who pay federal income taxes, and its assumption is that the Wall Street protesters are part of the 46 percent of the country who don’t. “We are the 53 percent” was originally the brainchild of Erick Erickson, founder of RedState.org, who worked together with Josh Trevino, communications director for the right-leaning Texas Public Policy Foundation, and conservative filmmaker Mike Wilson to develop the concept, according to Trevino.

The overriding message is that the protesters have failed to take personal responsibility, blaming their economic troubles on others. “Suck it up you whiners. I am the 53 percent subsidizing you so you can hang out on Wall Street and complain,” writes Erickson, in the Tumblr’s inaugural post. “I don’t blame Wall Street because it doesn’t matter what Wall Street or anyone else does. I am responsible for my own destiny. I will succeed or fail because of me and me ALONE,” writes another contributor, who describes himself as a Marine Corps veteran. Another irate contributor writes: “I take risks so my kids can have a better life. Not so you can sit on your [expletive] at my expense.”

Not only is this just embarrassingly shallow and heartless, it’s not even rational.

Part of the reason that over 40 percent of Americans don’t pay taxes is because of the continual push to lower them — a cause that conservatives have championed. For example, while the Bush-era tax cuts benefited the wealthy, they also lowered taxes at every income level, making it “relatively easy for families of four making $50,000 to eliminate their income tax liability,” as the Associated Press notes. Ronald Reagan’s tax cuts, similarly, took many lower-income Americans off of the tax rolls, an accomplishment about which the Gipper was quite proud.

Altogether, about 23 percent of Americans don’t pay federal income taxes because their incomes are too low, according to a July 2011 paper by the non-partisan Tax Policy Center. The other 23 percent of Americans don’t pay federal income taxes mostly because of tax breaks given to the elderly, low-income working families, government welfare recipients, and students, the Tax Policy Center’s Roberton Williams explains. “Many of those who don’t pay income tax do pay other taxes — federal payroll and excise taxes as well as state and local income, sales, and property taxes.”

What’s more the “53 percent” Tumblr also implies that there’s a certain mantle of responsibility that paying taxes confers upon people — i.e. grown-up, self-directed Americans like us can earn enough money to pay taxes, so you should, too. That’s an unusual message coming from conservatives who’ve pushed so mightily for an anti-tax agenda.

Indeed. We can argue whether it makes sense to have large numbers of America’s middle class exempt from federal income taxes. My instinct is that everyone should pay something just to have skin in the game. But the history of the income tax in America is that it was initially aimed exclusively at the rich and, until living memory, was extraordinarily high (91 percent as recently as 1963 and 70 percent as recently as 1980) for earnings in the top bracket. As Khimm notes, Reagan was proud to exempt working class folks from that particular tax burden and, even after his first big tax cut, the top rate remained at 50 percent.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. An Interested Party says:

    Not only is this just embarrassingly shallow and heartless, it’s not even rational.

    Well of course, considering that Erick Erickson is behind this…I can’t wait to see how many of the usual suspects around here chime in to agree wholeheartedly with this 53% message…

  2. sam says:

    Krugthug’s got it right:

    The way to understand all of this is to realize that it’s part of a broader syndrome, in which wealthy Americans who benefit hugely from a system rigged in their favor react with hysteria to anyone who points out just how rigged the system is.

  3. Muffler says:

    @sam: The phrasing is perfect… Statistically I am one of the 99% who have it better than most in the 99%. The amount of energy being spent to attack the OWS idea is indicative of close to the bone it strikes. The 53% is an indication of exactly your posted phrasing.

    The cards are stacked against the 99% movement and time will tell, but I suspect that something more will follow in it’s foot steps.

  4. Pug says:

    …a juvenile collection of “suck it, losers” posts.

    That about sums it up. I’m well into the 53% and I don’t relate to these guys at all.

    I think it’s awful that so many people in America are looking at a $10 and hour job in their future.

  5. Hey Norm says:

    Erik Eikson not rational? I’m shocked, shocked.

    As to your other point:
    The poor and the sick and the elderly alreeady have plenty of skin in the game. Some laborer who makes $20K for back-breaking work and pays sales tax and gas tax and state and local taxes out of that has more skin in the game than you or me.
    A study in Nevada found that the poorest 20 percent…those earning less than $21K a year…paid 8.9 percent of their income in state and local taxes. Earners in the top 1 percent — those with incomes of at least $574K paid just 1.6 percent on state and local taxes.
    Even the math-challenged can tell that 8.9% out of $21K is a big chunk of skin even by Shylock’s standards.

  6. Hey Norm says:

    The funny thing here is that the OWS is actually a far more conservative movement than the Tea Party.
    The Tea Party wants to destroy the government. 2nd Amendment remedies and all that. The OWS movement is not against government…it is against the elites who are currently running the government. This is analogous to the French Revolution and the American Revolution. The Tea Party is all about storming the Bastille…consequences be damned. Think back to the manufactured debt ceiling debacle…the Tea Party was willing to take down the world economy if that’s what happened, as long as they did not have to compromise their simple-minded positions. The American Revolution on the other hand was a last resort…when all other options had been exhausted…and even then they did not aim to destroy England…only to right egregious wrongs.
    Those silly folks with tea bags dangling from their hats would do this entire country a favor by listening to the OWS, and learning from them, rather than mocking them in the most juvenile fashion imaginable.

  7. Gustopher says:

    I wonder what a year of real, actual poverty would have done to Erick Erickson and his ilk. Being forced to choose between medicine and food, or between an apartment and a car.

    The opportunities for a comfortable middle class life are shrinking in America, and that’s a very real problem. The opportunities for a not-so-bad lower middle class life are shrinking even faster, and that’s an even worse problem.

    Does he not see this, or does he not care? Considering that he is one of the fine upstanding folk who consider empathy to be a bad thing, I’d bet it is the latter.

  8. john personna says:

    Indeed. We can argue whether it makes sense to have large numbers of America’s middle class exempt from federal income taxes. My instinct is that everyone should pay something just to have skin in the game.

    Is this backed by income data? I get the feeling that many, especially on the right, visualize the bottom half (the 47 percent) as working people who skate on income tax.

    I do know this:

    Most Food Stamp Recipients Have No Earned Income

    That’s not the mental image. Perhaps people can’t quite grasp how many are down there at zero income, and that’s the reason they can’t comprehend them not paying taxes.

  9. philwynk says:

    Anybody who blames the absence of taxation of the lowest 45% of wage-earners on the Republican pushes to lower taxes, and not on the Democratic insistence on an increasingly “progressive” tax scale, is a liar, and does not deserve further attention. Accordingly, this will be my last visit to this site. B’bye.

  10. Lit3Bolt says:

    The funny thing is conservatives deny class exists then use tactics such as pointing to their tax bracket or nice health insurance to show how superior they are to everyone else. It’s part of the Puritanical morality play that passes for economics these days; if you have money and a job, you are Noble and Good and part of the Gentry Class, but if you don’t, then the fault lies within your foul sinful body, with society, employers, and the government playing no role whatsoever.

    Apparently America wants an aristocracy of hyper-rich brats whining about their “investments” with a vast permanent underclass of unemployed, uninsured serfs.

  11. Ruth says:

    So posting conservative stories is juvenile, but crapping on a police car is free speech?

  12. Hey Norm says:

    No Ruth…they are both juvenile…but if you wish to condemn a movement based on one random act of one individual…I’m more than willing to review the actions of the silly people with tea bags dangling from their hats.

  13. bandit says:

    In response to a poignant collection of tales of suffering from the worst economy in decades

    You’re shitting me right? The repeated whining about “I have a poli-sci\women’s studies\psych\art history\beer pong degree and I’m $100K in debt and can’t afford a new iPhone” isn’t poignant – it’s the the juvenile complaining of the entitlement generation.

  14. Hey Norm says:

    The cost of an education has increased 3-fold since Reagan began attacking the middle-class. So I can assume by your comment that you would just-as-soon the next generation goes un-educated in exchange for additional tax cuts on top of hsitorically low effective tax rates?

  15. john personna says:


    Dude, we know that as a whole under-30 unemployment is at a 60 year high, and in the last ten years under-30 pay has eroded 10%.

    Now, I was one of those who argued in these pages against expensive tuition (and loans) for low value (ROI) degrees …. but I don’t think we can explain the whole under-30 experience that way.

    Unless … I mean was there some shift from higher value to lower value degrees in that time? I don’t’ think so.

  16. Lit3Bolt says:


    Just say you have no empathy…it’s more concise.

    Of course, tuition has skyrocketed 500% in past 20 years, and is the equivalent of buying a house today compared to buying a car maybe in your generation, but it’s more fun to say “Fvck the entire younger generation!”

  17. anjin-san says:

    Of course, tuition has skyrocketed 500% in past 20 years

    Along with the compensation for executives and senior managers at the university level. A lot of folks in the UC system are doing very well indeed.

  18. EddieInCA says:

    James –

    How is your comment regarding others saying “Suck it losers” in any way substantially different from the posts on this very site from Doug, Steve and Dodd in regards to OWS?

    They don’t say “Suck it losers”, but almost every post by them on the subject implies the very same thought almost each time.

  19. sam says:


    I’d not put Steven in the “suck it losers” crowd, Eddie. Dodd and Doug, for sure, though.

  20. Xenos says:

    I don’t even live in the USA, but I am part of the 53%. I also want a healthy, functioning America to keep existing so my kids can move back there and have decent lives if they choose to do so.

    I am with the 99% because unless serious reform of Wall Street, including a transaction tax that makes hyperspeculation a losing business model, takes place there will be no decent careers open to them aside from being a servant to the 1% (like their old man, I am afraid – I want them to do better). I am with the 99% because unless the tax rates go up on the top 10% the country will enter a long decline to third world status.

    The lack of a secure future for middle class people brought my ancestors to America. That lack has made me leave. This is an incredible shame, really.

  21. Hey Norm says:

    As if he had read my post at 8:24 Sullivan points to an analysis of the OWS movement by Gregory Djerejian at the Belgravia Dispatch:

    “…While I will readily confess I find it odd as something of a Burkean that I am sympathetic to these protesters, they are not looking to trot out the guillotines, in the main (although I did spot a “Behead the Fed” sign!), but rather, they have smelled the radicalism of the blows dealt the integrity of a representative democratic system poised by the almost unfettered oligarch-like behavior among too many elites wholly disconnected from, yes, the 99% they speak of. They are acting to secure conservative aims of re-balancing a society that is becoming dangerously unmoored and increasingly bent asunder. They want accountability and dignity and prospects…”

    If you haven’t read it you should. The spam filter blocked the link but I’m sure if you google the authors name you will find the post.

  22. ponce says:

    Haha, conservatives really are artless freaks.

    Maybe Kelsey Grammar could come with something catchier for them..

  23. James Joyner says:

    @EddieInCA: I think it’s possible to distinguish between the protesters and the stories on the tumblr and between individual stories on the tumblr.

    Middle aged men who’ve suddenly found themselves unable to provide or those with massive health care costs are more sympathetic that 20-somethings who find themselves unable to land their dream job.

    As noted yesterday, Doug has been more dismissive than I have about the griping about student loan debt. That’s partly a function of, having more recently been inside the system, I’m more aware of how radically the game there has shifted. Accumulating large debt for school is less irresponsible than it was in the days of heavily subsidized tuition.

  24. Tlaloc says:

    when I first saw Erickson’s post all I could think was that it was a quintessential “let them eat cake” moment.

    Not to mention the cognitive dissonance of saying:
    some people not paying income tax (but still paying other taxes), BAD!
    Texas (where no one pays income taxes but they do pay other taxes), GOOD!

    Either income tax is a good thing everyone should pay or it’s not, you can’t call it good in one case and bad in another just because you really have a huge boner for texas. Not to mention the idiocy of people like erickson trying to be sly by claiming a lot of people pay no federal income tax but saying it in such a way as to make it sound like they pay no taxes at all.

  25. Nikki says:

    Not to mention the idiocy of people like erickson trying to be sly by claiming a lot of people pay no federal income tax but saying it in such a way as to make it sound like they pay no taxes at all.

    You say this as if this “53%” is a meme coming from the hinterlands of the conservative movement when, in actuality, we have the Republican presidential candidates espousing this stuff back in August.

    Edit: I had a link to a Slate article, but it got caught in the spam filter.

  26. CB says:


    progressive taxation is why 23% of americans dont earn enough to pay income taxes. got it.

    you’ll be missed, im sure.


    yeah, us 20-somethings, the ones who are paying for your social security and medicare, the same ones who will in no way, shape, or form be able to reap those same benefits that i assume you currently enjoy, WE are the entitlement generation.

  27. bandit says:

    Hey Norm: I can assume by your comment that you think people shouldn’t be responsible for their own decisions? What does anyone accruing a huge amount of debt have to do with my tax rate? Except that they’re undecuated now but they took on a huge amount of debt and they want it forgiven?

    john personna : Obviously if you can’t find a job you have a low value degree. Markets change.Since there’s a 4.3% unemployment rate for people with a college degree we’re not talking about a ‘whole generation’

    Lit3Bolt : What empathy should I have for people who made incredibly stupid decisions and want to stick the taxpayers for them? And I’ll repeat above – what do you mean a ‘whole generation’?

    I went down to OB twice and talked to people but it’s the same thing – free college, forgive student debt, give me a job at what I want to be paid. Sorry but what job do they expect to be ‘given’?

  28. bandit says:

    CB: Nobodies paying for my SS or Medicare dumbass – I go to work every day.

  29. Hey Norm says:

    I guess it’s tough for you to understand complexities. Let me try…though I’m not hopeful.
    We currently have the lowest effective tax rates in history.
    We have them because when times were good instead of investing in the future – things like infrasturcture and education – we gave out tax cuts. Now it has become clear that our level of taxation is too low to sustain any programs that might help people reach for their true potential…like Pell Grants. This is known as pulling the ladder up behind you. You got yours…now fu** everyone else.
    Your comment at 12:53 illustrates your total lack of understanding about how things actually work. If you are going to take such rigid ideological stances you should at least endeavor to grasp the basics of the topics you are discussing. Then those ideological stances might be worth considering. Now…not so much.

  30. bandit says:

    They already went to college dumbass

  31. Hey Norm says:

    Shorter Bandit…
    Blah Blah Blah Blah Blah Blah Dumbass.

  32. john personna says:

    @James Joyner:

    Middle aged men who’ve suddenly found themselves unable to provide or those with massive health care costs are more sympathetic that 20-somethings who find themselves unable to land their dream job.

    Why is there a movement by middle aged men to paint historically high under-30 unemployment as hipsters complaining they can’t have a dream job?

    Especially after we saw a historic reduction in under-30 pay, as the topper.

  33. Lit3Bolt says:

    @john personna:

    Because middle aged white men are just more sympathetic, period.

    Young people are icky and have tattoos.

  34. James Joyner says:

    @john personna: I think it’s the natural, cynical read to people complaining about a high priced humanities degree not working out for them.@

    Lit3Bolt: Nah, that’s generational rather than age-based. My dad had a tattoo, as did many working class and military men of his age. Hardly any of my cohort does, comparatively. The generation after mine are all tattooed, including the upper middle class and, oddly, the women.

  35. john personna says:

    @James Joyner:

    Someone told me that tattoos are not allowed in local college diving competitions. So divers show up covered in duct tape. That apparently is legal under the rules.

  36. MarkedMan says:

    I like to think I make my political decisions rationally. But then I read something like this Erick Flotsam or whatever his name is and think “what a pathetic toadie”. This is a guy who had his house go underwater and his family’s future put in jeopardy by a bunch of over privileged smug Wall Street crooks. Then he turns around and fawns over them and kisses up, rather than seek to put the bastards in jail where they belong.

    And I find myself so repulsed I just can’t even listen to anything else he has to say. I so much don’t want to be one of these Eric-toadies that I am in danger of joining the OWS guys just to prove I am not a total loser.

  37. val says:

    Unfortunately people have come to feel they are entitled to things. We are not entitled to anything. I think JFK said it best with “Ask not what your country can do for you.Ask what you can do for your country.” Every one is stating beliefs from the left and the right but neither side is listening, or coming up with a solution. The only fair way for taxes would be a flat sales tax at this point. Everyone pays for what they consume. Instead of bantering back and fourth which is getting us nowhere let each of us offer solutions not just bash each other.

  38. Maggie D says:

    No, the tea party does not want to ‘destroy’ the government. As usual, the left got it wrong. We want to bring the government to a reasonable level. We do not need 32 different departments to do the same job. We do not need over thirty ‘czars’ who are not accountable to anyone but the president. We DO need a tighter government with people doing their jobs and getting them right.

    When the oil spill occurred, one department of the EPA would approve the state governors helping their states, while another would absolutely forbid it, while another said maybe and yet another tore down any work done to stop the spills from destroying coastlines. This is a government that is ridiculously large and incompetent.

    Tea Party people believe they are responsible for their own lives and do not blame everyone else for their troubles.

    My husband and I worked all our lives to build something worth having. We had a home, rental properties and after he retired, we bought a boat dealership. The pendulum then swung the other way. Although we were successful in our business, the manufacturer of our product sold out all dealers on the west coast of Florida for backer money. We lost the business, which turned out to be good. My husband, who would not go to the doctor with increasing shortness of breath, finally went. He needed five heart bypasses.

    We didn’t curse the company supplying our product for refusing to continue; we thanked God my husband got help in time.

    We eventually lost our rental properties, our savings and our home. Our savings went to help a nephew who needed help paying medical bills. This person made $250K a year, but thought fun was more important than insurance. He was also a relative and we help relatives.

    We lost the rentals after renters destroyed them before moving out. The repairs ran our credit up far too high and we were in debt. Then my husband had a massive stroke.

    We moved closer to our children and to another state for medical help. We had to short sell our home because we could not pay a mortgage and rental on another property. Two years later, my husband is totally disabled, but trying to recover. I take care of him twenty-four hours a day. I count it a privilege not a curse.

    We are now out of debt because I put every cent toward getting us out that didn’t go to rent, utilities, food and medical bills.

    I borrowed from family and friends and repaid them at ten percent interest – more than they could get anywhere today.

    Tea Party people know how to clean up after themselves and bathe. It’s fairly obvious the 99% don’t have a clue. If they can’t do these small things, they do not have pride in themselves or the gumption to get jobs.

    Tea Party people will take more than one small job to get to their goals. The 99% turn up their noses at fast food jobs or cashier positions that don’t start them at the top of the career ladder and I’ve heard them make fun of people who are proud of starting at the bottom and working their way up.

    Tea Party people DO NOT have unions, millionaires (who the 99% say they hate) pushing the movement.

    Tea Party people did not have to pay people they hired off Craig’s list to join the movement.

    Tea Party people are definitely not like the Ninety-Nine Percenters. Thank goodness!

  39. Matt says:

    Please get your facts straight. The Tea Party is not looking to destroy the government ala French Revolution as you say. The Tea Party wants to restore the govt. to its original purpose and boundaries. They want lower taxes, a better environment for businesses to bring jobs back to the US and a country where people don’t rely on a government check to survive but instead have the opportunity and means to pull themselves up higher and higher. I do agree with the OWS crowd that certain people on Wall Street should be held criminally liable for their greed driven actions. And I agree that the elite need to be removed from positions of power. Let’s start w/ Barack Obama, Timothy Geithner, Ben Bernanke, Chris Dodd, Barney Frank, etc.

  40. BRUCE CUTHBERT says:


  41. An Interested Party says:

    Oh my, such defensiveness…sadly for Teabaggers, most people really don’t want government to be as small as these so-called conservatives claim they want it to be…oh, and if Teabaggers are so upset about all the generalizations directed towards them, perhaps they shouldn’t direct generalizations towards other groups…

  42. A voice from another precinct says:

    @philwynk: Don’t let the door hit you on your way out!

  43. A voice from another precinct says:

    @Xenos: Count me in that group, too. I left the US for an 80% increase in pay. I’m up to 120% now.

  44. Justin Perry says:

    It is true that, thanks to George W. Bush, 47% of people pay no INCOME taxes. Over half of them are either elderly, disabled, or students. Way to be compassionate, 53 percenters.

    Also, you can’t ignore that the 47% pay every other kind of tax, and in the end, 16.7% of their income goes to taxes. That means they pay MORE taxes than the rich in 49 out of our 50 states.
    So if you’re going to rob the poor, at least don’t lie to them while you’re taking their money.

  45. Jonn says:

    This guy should release his tax returns so we can all see what staggering rate he pays.. Yawn. He thinks elderly are poor are responsible.. great.
    The fact is, no matter how much he thinks people are getting over, NO ONE can avoid social security tax, medicare tax, property tax, sales tax, etc etc. So he is not subsidizing anything.
    The only people providing subsidies are those who either pay taxes, operate business, or own property in these states: NJ, CA, TX, NY, FL, OH. Those are the states that send D.C. enough money to redistribute to the other 40 or so poor money-losing states in the union so they can have things like schools, roads, and post offices. Those six states account for almost 80% of the federal budget.
    Maybe the people of those 6 states should form “We are the 80%”, secede from the union and let the rest of America starve. Great.

  46. Fashionista says:

    I suggest that the posters to this blog go to the 53 percent website and read the postings.

  47. dw says:
  48. jekyllisland says:

    Who is funding the OWS movement?

    These seem to organized and all seem to take place on private property. There are too many questions on how this can support itself without money, so who is funding this?

  49. carlianschwartz says:

    Good riddance! Enjoy your delusions, as they were enjoyed in the Bunker until the Soviet Army arrived.

  50. carlianschwartz says:

    @Hey Norm: Norm, I think you have this right. I think that this “revolution” is actually a desire to return to the promise of the Constitution and its amendments, not to mention how living conditions and rights had improved from 1937 until the “Reagan Revolution” and its successors.

    The economics of the “Reagan Revolution” have not really worked over the past 31 years, but they are being pushed as cure-alls by the GOP. The “Tea Party” is pushing even further, to eliminate much of the Federal government that had presided over the improvement in most Americans’ lots since 1937 (and enabled our victory over the Axis). Indeed, considering “Tea Party” and GOP campaign talk, one could form the opinion that these people would have simply joined the Axis in 1942.

    For a good discussion of the French Revolution (and, by inference, the American revolution), I’d suggest reading Michael Goldfarb’s “Emancipation.” One thought really stood out–before a “revolution” or change, it must be enunciated, debated, and thought out. This book shows how this was done, from coffee houses to salons to legislative bodies. It’s a discussion that’s commenced (legitimately) in Occupy Wall Street, and should continue to prevent this nation from becoming an oligarchy like Zimbabwe or Russia.

  51. Joe says:



    BLOOMBERG TIME TO RID the CITY STREETS of THIS GARBAGE…oh and the tarps and stuff they leave behind too