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There are indeed a substantial number of erroneous arguments in Niall Ferguson’s profoundly embarrassing op-ed, but I thought I’d focus on this one:

Welcome to Obama’s America: nearly half the population is not represented on a taxable return—almost exactly the same proportion that lives in a household where at least one member receives some type of government benefit. We are becoming the 50–50 nation—half of us paying the taxes, the other half receiving the benefits.

There are people willing to assert that the only taxes people pay are federal income taxes. There are people who have some business being paid to write essays. And there’s certainly no overlap between these two categories.

I could proceed to talk about his ridiculous claims that the ACA did nothing to address Medicare costs (oddly, the candidate Ferguson favors seems unaware of this), or his foolish assertions about Paul Ryan, but really, after that addressing his argument further would be superfluous. It’s a Renew America column with a marginally larger vocabulary.

Incidentally, Ferguson shows up in Annie Lowrey’s piece about conservative “intellectuals” who are bowled over by Paul Ryan. It seems odd that a transparent fraud like Ryan could get the reputation as some sort of wonk, but when you see what passes for an intellectual in Republican circles it starts to make sense.

see also. And also.

…and definitely this.

Digging himself deeper.

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  • angry bitter drunk

    Happy to be wrong, but I think Ryan was the only choice for Romney. By Republican standards, the media loathes Romney, but they wuvs Ryan. That and the voter caging, and I think Romney has a better than 50-50 chance of winning in November.

    • Incontinentia Buttocks

      Agree with half of this.

      Ryan is a very sensible choice for Romney, ’cause the media does love him.

      But media love is only indirectly connected to votes. And VP choices almost never make any difference whatsoever in the final outcome. Ryan will be no exception.

      And I still see no reason to doubt Nate Silver: Obama is by no means guaranteed to win this election, but he is absolutely likely to do so.

      • angry bitter drunk

        I think you underestimate media wuv. Remember 2000.

        And Silver has Obama winning Ohio, Pennsylvania and Floriduh? That’s kind of laughable. My laws of statistical probability say Romney wins whenever his are the only votes that get counted…

        • Furious Jorge


          Fuck you.

          • hells littlest angel

            Uh-oh. Furious guy/drunk guy fight.

        • Captain Splendid

          I think you underestimate voter apathy. remember 2004.

          • 2004 set records for both Democratic and Republican votes.

            • Bill Murray

              Isn’t this by total number? But isn’t the appropriate voting metric for apathy be the number voting divided by the total eligible voters?

              I still doubt 2004 was that high in voter apathy, but total number says little about apathy

        • timb

          I don’t know, seems the only place a VP might matter is the state full of Medicare beneficiaries voting on whether to elect a guy who hates Medicare….

    • Heron

      I agree that to Romney, Ryan would have been the best of a series of unappetizing choices due to his popularity among the the social set that Mr. Romney cares about, but I disagree on the 50-50. The moves towards voter suppression are certainly unsettling -the willingness to stuff ballots and misreport that they presage even more so- but I’d say the chances of the Cons winning this cycle are fairly low compared to historical pattern.

      On another note, did anyone see or hear Ryan’s campaign spot today, dragging his mother out to offer support for his plan? Every 5th grader alive would be ashamed to use their mother’s approval to try and game a science fair judge, but apparently Ryan considers such special pleading just fine for American politics. Distasteful.

  • Also too…Funny how these guys always seem to forget this…

    • greylocks

      Social Security benefits are also taxable if you make more than your base filing amount for your marital status.

  • FlipYrWhig

    Far worse as a 50/50 proposition is that roughly half the country seems to think the country’s principal economic problem is that poor people have too much money and rich people too little.

    • Poor people are lazy. Rich people are hard-working. And we can’t reward laziness and punish hard work.

  • c u n d gulag

    I sometimes feel as if I’ve stepped into an alternative universe.

    Everyone who lives in this country pays SOME form of local, state, and/or Federal taxes.

    At least the ones who are on the books.
    And the ones who don’t, are either illegal aliens working under false pretenses, OR – RICH people with highly-paid accountants and tax lawyers, like Mitt Romney!
    And even then, everytime any single feckin’ one of either group purchases anything from a pacifier for their kid, to a Mercedes sedan as a pacifier for the Mrs, PAYS TAXES!!!!!!!!!
    Why is THAT so hard to understand, you FECKIN’ IDJITS?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

    Niall, it AIN’T, AND CAN’T BE, a 50-50 nation, when 99% have to ‘kneel’ to the 1%!
    When we pay about 30+ percent of our taxes, while Mitt pays, according to him, and who wouldn’t trust a serial liar? – at least 13% every year for the last 10 years.
    T-H-I-R-T-E-E-N PERCENT!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Yeah, right!

    Get over your mildly wealthy self, ‘Kneel.”

    Mitt wouldn’t hire you to be one of his cabana boys – you might be just a tad bit too British to be sycophantic enough.

    after all, normally, you Brit’s don’t suck the d*ck’s of anyone without at least a “Lord” in front of their name.

    • Step away from the keyboard. Have a drink. Or stop drinking, whichever gets you closer to the median….

  • Leeds man

    It is small of me I know, but Ferguson is someone I’ve wanted to punch in the face for several years now, peaking whenever I hear his smug refained Scottish (Kelvinside?) pronouncements. Slimy supercilious fuck.

    • DrDick


    • Bill Murray

      I’m in for a knee to the googlies

    • Let’s Kickstarter this.

      What I’m saying is I will PAY to see Niall Ferguson get punched in the face.

      • timb

        you have to be in for more than bail and legal expenses. I have to make a profit here

      • Left_Wing_Fox

        I’m starting a Kickstarter to make a Kickstarter for community funded beatings. It’ll be called Startkicker.

    • jonnybutter

      I am usually able to avoid hating people, especially if the person in question is just a writer or commentator or something like that. I know that giving hate to someone I don’t think much of is a form of aggrandizement, so usually the impulse passes. But I just despise Niall F. I can’t help it. His deliberate lying is so patent – even, surely, to himself in unguarded moments. I despise him because he knows he’s lying and is pleased with himself for getting away with it. He is perfectly corrupt, intellectually and just as a man, and he stinks.

      • mpowell

        Feguson is an evil asshole. I’m not one too toss around an adjective like evil too lightly, but he definitely deserves it. He’s a major Republican operative.

        • Heron

          I second that. Not only is he evil, he’s one of those vile, theory-driven historians that give the profession a bad name(Thanks Hegel, you prick). He begins with his conclusion(typically something along the lines of “European Imperialism is good” or “the English are superior to all other humans”), and works backwards through the record to “prove” it via not only the most blatant cherry-picking, but through one-siding, inaccurate summations of events as well. That he does so with such supreme, fame-mugging-smugness certainly does nothing to settle the bile his method raises, nor does the extent to which he is rewarded for this complete lack of professional or scholarly ethics by the wealthy, nor the parvenu’s-pride with which he basks in it.

          • Dave

            Whatever else you might say about that lying Scottish sack of shit, he has never accused the English of being superior human beings…

            • guthrie

              We tend to disown scots who bugger off abroad to ‘make it big’ and never pay any attention to their home country afterwards.

      • timb

        Plus, his wife is too beautiful and way smarter than he is….

        then again, she’s just as wrong as politics, so there’s that

    • Walt

      Small of you? It shows your generosity of spirit to your fellow man.

  • Hogan

    Incidentally, Ferguson shows up in Annie Lowrey’s piece about conservative “intellectuals” who are bowled over by Paul Ryan.

    Well yeah. All Ferguson got for working this con was a chair at Harvard. Ryan could end up a heartbeat away from the big red button, and four to eight years away from the biggest gravy train in the known universe.

  • Warren Terra

    If you really want to seethe, try to sit through Niall Ferguson’s Wingnut-tastic 2012 Reith Lectures. Possibly one of the greatest honours and grandest platforms for a public intellectual in the English-speaking world, one person (occasionally more) is chosen every year; the list of past speakers is, with some exceptions, stellar.

    As part of their campaign to placate the Tories (akin to trying to please an abusive parent), the Beeb gave the laurels to Ferguson this year. His lectures – at least the first one-and-a-half, before I gave up – were almost verbatim talking points from the intellectually shallow end of the Fox News empire, things William Kristol would have rejected as being too obviously false and disingenuous. The whole experience of realizing what was being done with the lectures was as embarrassing as it was excruciating.

    • Jon H

      That was such a huge plunge in stature with the Ferguson pick.

      Martin Rees
      Aung San Suu Kyi
      Niall “The hetero guy the wingnuts always wished Andrew Sullivan was” Ferguson?

      • Heron

        haha! Bingo, sadly.

    • Nutella

      Here’s one example of the swill Ferguson is peddling about the horrors of public debt. I attended a speech he gave in 2000 where he rather patronizingly explained to us peons how good public debt is and how silly and unserious anyone was who complained about the Bush tax cuts, etc. contributing to the deficit. Harvard, Oxford, and Stanford all pay him for this which is about as academically sophisticated as grunting “right wing good, leftists evil”.

  • TT

    I wonder if Krugman is a raging alcoholic by now, because despite all of the column and blog space he’s devoted over the years to obliterating the next-level stupidity of both Ryan and Ferguson, those two con artists are apparenty at the height of their powers and are as prominent and “respected” as ever.

    • DrDick

      Not sure about that, but he certainly seems to have given up all pretense of civility on these issues. I think this really does capture the current state of the Krugman.

      • Walt

        No matter how many times I see that picture, I still love it.

    • Heron

      As Krugman occasionally says “Their bad policy isn’t going to affect me; I’m rich and have a job I’ll hold for as long as I want it.” I’m sure Krugman gets frustrated sometimes, but I think his primary motivation isn’t personal anger, but a desire that WE personally get angry about this BS. Now Dean Baker; when he talks about these issues he gets visibly and vocally agitated.

      • pseudonymous in nc

        I get the feeling that Krugman has particular animus for Ferguson, who is, as Krugman pointed out, a colossal poseur.

      • liberal

        SOunds like you see DB on TV or something.

        Me, I’ve just been reading his blog since sometime in the 90s.

  • DrDick

    I think that this says all we need to know about conservative “intellectuals.” Being the smartest kid in your special ed class does not make you an intellectual. Oh and John Stuart Mill was profoundly wrong.

    • John

      Niall Ferguson’s book on the Rothschilds is meant to be quite good. He seems to be an example of the Peter Principle at work, except that he promoted himself to his level of incompetence.

      • mpowell

        This isn’t incompetence. This is doing the devil’s work because it pays well.

        • John

          But he doesn’t do it any better than Bill Kristol. If he actually had a gift for right-wing propaganda, wouldn’t he do a better job of it?

          • mpowell

            Well, he’s good enough. Certainly capable of carrying his weight at this level. That it is good enough says something about the rest of our society, unfortunately.

      • pseudonymous in nc

        The Rothschilds book came about because he a) sweet-talked his way into getting exclusive access to the family’s private archive; b) got a lot of his students to do the actual research in said archive in return for a leg up the academic or journalistic ladder.

        That was his “write about rich old banking families and get rich” phase. I think the wheels came off as an academic with The Pity of War, which locked him into the rah-rah-empire mode, and he’s been writing 21st century pith-helmet bollocks and carousing to American wingnuts ever since.

      • Bill

        A long time ago, before Niall Ferguson became a “name”, I read both Rothschilds volumes and came away much enlightened (I thought). Ever since then I’ve been wondering what happened. Was it him or me?

  • R. Porrofatto

    This is bullshit even when dealing solely with Federal income taxes on wage income. Since Ferguson is a propagandist, he applies the moochers vs. producers spin: half of us paying the taxes, the other half receiving the benefits. But the vast majority of lower income tax savings comes from the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit — in other words, something only available to working people, not people who receive “benefits.”

    Besides, we don’t have anything near a progressive tax system, and it all gets even worse if you factor in capital gains and dividend income. According to the IRS which just released this 2009 info, of the top 400 individual income tax returns reporting an average of $202 million in income (with an effective tax rate of 16.6%), 6 people paid no federal income tax at all. Talk about moochers.

    • Kyle

      And has the percentage of people not paying federal taxes changed significantly since The Cheney/Chimp Assministration?

      Methinks Fugu-san (Mr. Blowfish) is exploiting the vast reservoir of Repuke ignorance about a tax situation that has existed for years under administrations of both parties.

    • mpowell

      And you have SS: pay into SS for 40 years and receive benefits as a retiree and Ferguson will call you a moocher. For a program like SS, this is the way it’s suppose to work!

      • KeithOK

        I think that this is the most important point here. Even if we accepted the “moocher” theory (which I don’t), you have to look at a persons lifetime, not just one particular year. People who pay taxes their whole working life, and then in their seventies don’t earn enough to owe federal income taxes are not moochers, even if they receive Social Security. Even if they receive Social Security and a Government pension.

        • TN

          It would be interesting to know the percentage of Americans who (a) pay no income tax and (b) receive sizable government benefits, while being (c) Fox News-loving, Obama-hating retirees. I can think of several members of my family who are in that boat. These so-called moochers aren’t quite the people Niall Ferguson imagines them to be.

          • Cody

            This sounds like it would be a great news story.

            “Today on CNN, we round up 30 “moochers” according to Paul Ryan. These people pay no income tax and receive large government benefits. All 30 vote Republican!”

  • Murc

    One would think that living in a world where the half of people too poor to pay income taxes AREN’T incentivized to rise up in a bloody revolution would be a benefit the “other half” receives.

    • Malaclypse

      They do seem to have forgotten what happened to the first person to use the “let them eat cake” argument [*]. They really need some more class awareness, for their own sake.

      * Apocryphal nature of anecdote is central to my point.

      • DrDick

        Too much inbreeding at the top is taking its toll.

        • Heron

          a funny statement, but the real culprit is just mundane, inevitable human arrogance. When you have 1000x the resources of the average human, you tend to start to believe you genuinely are worth 1000 other human beings, unless you’re careful. We you are born to such a condition(as much of our elites are these days) this tendency becomes even more pronounced.

          • Heron


            When you are born to such a condition(as much of our elites are these days) this tendency becomes even more pronounced.

            FTFM :/

  • Jameson Quinn

    What’s with “represented on a taxable return”? So being a tax deduction for your rich daddy is good, but being a veteran with a pension is bad?

    Also, by this accounting paying extra taxes mecause you’re undocumented doesn’t just make you evil (we knew that), it makes you a moocher. Not to mention all the good/evil veterans and farmers, and all the evil/good working poor; “let them eat cake and have it too”.

  • This takedown of Niall Ferguson’s ability to correctly forecast the economy from Joe Weisenthal at Business Insider is good as well:


  • Steve LaBonne

    The hiring of this fraud by my alma mater would lower my opinion of the latter, except that it can hardly go any lower.

  • I think the “not represented on a taxable return” thing is supposed to make people think that there’s some 50% of the population who don’t even fill out the forms. So if you do and see that you had taxes withheld, it can’t possibly be you who is being referred to, even if you do get the EITC or pay pretty much only FICA taxes, which don’t count according to the people making the argument Ferguson is parroting.

    The problem with that is that it’s false. (Yeah, I’m assuming that’s still a problem, silly me.) But it allows for the existence of people who both whine about the 50% of the country who are moochers and who fit into the category (as they would define it) themselves.

    I think the 50% argument should be responded to with numbers and specifics — so you are saying that a 70 year old retiree is a moocher? A person who makes less than X? So on. It’s hard to do because of course the circumstances are so variable, but I want the economically struggling Republicans who think they are overtaxed based on FICA to understand that the argument their party is making is directed against them.

  • burritoboy

    The UK should focus more on exporting industrial goods and less upon foisting it’s Tory “intellectual” con artists on the rest of the world. That previous sentence might actually be a better industrial policy than whatever nonsense they’re supposed to doing right now.

  • Glenn

    James Fallows even gets in on the act:


    For the normally pretty mild-mannered Fallows, this is quite a smackdown.

  • Zach

    Paul Ryan has said the same thing… to paraphrase out of laziness, “we’re nearing a threshold at which the takers will outnumber the makers in America,” obviously referencing the figure that 47% of filers owed no Federal income tax in 2009. Now, the problem here is that Mitt Romney, in boasting that he’s paid at least 13% income tax for the past 10 years, counts taxes on capital gains and dividends as income taxes. There’s certainly an argument to be made there, but there’s an infinitely stronger argument that the flat payroll taxes on wages that fund Social Security and Medicare are income taxes. These are not included in the “half pay no income tax!” complaint.

    Romney and Ryan can’t have it both ways. You can’t count investment taxes as income taxes and not count payroll taxes as well.

  • Tern

    I’m always amazed with these “moocher” attacks. My husband is retired army. He collects retirement pay (pension), has a bad back, knees and hips because of his service. He and I both still work though, pay taxes and file tax forms every yr. Last yr we paid over 30k in federal taxes. Yeah, we got a little back when filing, but I chuckle because we essentially cover his pension out of our taxes! We get a govt benefit though, so we are moochers in some circles.

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  • Kaleberg

    Government services include government US dollars, government protected real estate, and government chartered limited liability collectives. The biggest users of government services are those who have the most dollars, real estate and corporate holdings. Everyone uses government services and everyone pays for them except the extremely wealthy and the extremely poor. I’m willing to let the latter off the hook. You can’t get blood from a turnip, but the rich are just people who demand the most government services, so they should stop whining when the bill comes in.

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