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The rich don't control Washington

Contrary to popular wisdom, the rich don't control Washington. The poor and the middle-class do.

This will surprise most Americans. We've been conditioned to believe that Washington is a den of corruption, overrun by well-paid lobbyists, and lawyers who manipulate government policies to favor the rich and corporate interests. Ordinary Americans don't stand a chance against this juggernaut.

But look at what the government actually does, and a completely different picture emerges.

Ron Haskins, a scholar at the Brookings Institution, recently presented some fascinating figures on government spending. From 1980 to 2011, yearly outlays for the 10 largest programs for the poor went from $126 billion to $626 billion in inflation adjusted dollars.

Then there are the programs aimed primarily at the middle-class. The biggest, of course, are Social Security and Medicare. Put together, all these programs accounted for almost 60 percent of total federal spending in 2011.

Meanwhile, what about the rich and well-to-do? Well, they're paying for almost all of that spending. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the richest fifth of Americans pay nearly 70 percent of all federal taxes.

The point is not that the rich are victims. Their lawyers and lobbyists often do secure beneficial tax breaks, subsidies and regulatory preferences. But focusing mainly on these victories distorts our picture of government.

Our problem is not that the rich have taken over government. Our problem is that politicians, on the left and right, are doling out money to everyone -- particularly the poor and middle-class. That's why our budget deficits are so huge and so intractable.

About the author

Robert Samuelson is a columnist for the Washington Post and the author of "The Great Inflation and Its Aftermath: The Past and Future of American Affluence."
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The corporate tax rate may be 35%, however, companies have many ways to avoid paying this rate. (from tax loopholes to tax incentives to accounting rules that create made up expenses like depreciation) ALSO - one thing that is conveniently left out when discussing the high 35% tax rate is the most important fact that companies only pay taxes on their profits - that is - after all of their expenses are deducted. Individual tax payers pay taxes on their gross income while companies pay taxes on their net income. This makes a huge difference and, again, points out the false arguments put out by those in control of the country's resources.

I strongly object to the airing of this kind of drivel on public radio.
"The richest fifth pay nearly 70% of the federal taxes" well duhh, the richest fifth hold 80% of the nations wealth. So, my math says they're not paying their fair share.
It is fact that the rich, are rich in opportunity, in even more stark contrast than those nasty statistics, and getting starker by the day. And it is fact that our politicians, to the one, are bought.
Mr. Samuelson is entitled to his opinion, but I can't excuse APUBLICM for using our airtime to espouse them. I want cred!

What deceitful demagoguery. He cites that 60 % of "spending" goes to the non-elite , lumping the self funding Medicare and Social Security programs as spending. In the next breath he cites that 70% of "federal taxes" come from the elite, but conveniently does not mention this is of Income Taxes, not including Medicare/ SS contributions. What a fraud.

Mr. Samuelson thus boldly proves the maxim "there are lies, there are damn lies, and there are statistics."

Completely worthless comment. Check the facts at www.irs.gov and reply with something more meaningful

Well Put! See my comment above.

I'm surprised that Marketplace allowed such flimsy commentary to be aired. Almost every point falls apart under the simplest scrutiny. I would refer Mr. Samuelson to the work of Thomas Ferguson on the investment theory of politics, or to that of Larry Bartels which has found a strong statistical correlation between the responsiveness of US senators and constituents' income group.

Mr. Samuelson believes the purpose of the population is to help the economy, whereas others believe the purpose of the economy is to help the population. The uncontrolled concentration of wealth will destroy this country and end the American experiment. Mr. Samuelson is exactly wrong.

Why are there so many more poor now, who can't pay taxes and who require government safety-net services? Right-wing policies coupled with market crashes engineered (whether intentionally or not) by wealthy bankers and hedge-fund managers.

Yeah; the poor are the problem...

And Samuelson is DEAD WRONG about Social Security in both respects: it is not government "spending" per se; it is self-funded via payroll tax (in other words, that money BELONGS to those who are paying into the fund, not to the government). It is not the wealthy who pay for it but the middle class--there is a cutoff at 100k of income, so the rich do not pay much at all into the system.

Why does APM give a soap box to a right-wing propagandist with an axe to grind and nothing but busted old class-warfare tropes to spout off? Trickle down did not work, is not working, and will not ever work to create jobs or a burgeoning middle class, which is the only way to finance the government and grow a healthy economy.

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