The ‘Makers’ and the ‘Takers’

Sheila Kennedy

April 15, 2014


Today’s super rich engorge themselves on federal dollars and evade billions in taxes while ordinary Americans work themselves to the bone. Professor of Law and Public Policy Sheila Suess Kennedy maintains it’s high time we rethink who are the ‘makers’ and the ‘takers.’

For the past three years or so, I’ve had my house cleaned once a month — an indulgence I justify on the grounds that it frees up time for writing and teaching. Most months, the woman who does the cleaning brings her two teenagers with her. She has been utterly dependable and has a key to the house. On “cleaning days,” I generally leave her money on the dining room table and go about my business.

Last month, I came home while the “crew” was still here. The teens were working, but mom was sitting in her car. The boy explained that his mother had had a heart attack that Monday.

I was appalled. Why didn’t she postpone? Why was she driving? The son explained that she was worried about losing her clients if she wasn’t dependable — and that he and his sister can’t drive.

I went to talk to her — to reassure her that I would have been fine with a postponement, that her health should come first — and asked her about health insurance. She had Medicaid, she said, but “that doesn’t pay the light bill or put food on the table.” She assured me that she’d “be fine.”

I was suddenly reminded of the right-wing talking points about the makers and the takers. Paul Ryan’s description of the “lazy” poor and the “substandard” work ethic nurtured by their “culture.” Mitt Romney’s disdain for the 47 percent of American “takers” who just want to live off the “makers.” Those constant Fox News stories about people who “rip off” taxpayers and live high on that generous social safety net we provide.

How many of the self-satisfied blowhards who look down their noses at the growing numbers of struggling Americans would get out of their beds three days after a heart attack and go to work?

For that matter, just how self-sufficient are those “makers”?

Open the Books, a new nonprofit advocating greater transparency in government spending, recently reported that between 2000 and 2012, Fortune magazine’s top 100 companies received $1.2 trillion from the feds. And that — as Aaron Cantú writes at AlterNet—doesn’t include either the billions of bailout dollars doled out to housing, auto and banking enterprises in 2008-2009 or the massive ethanol subsidies for agribusiness.

And don’t forget the corporations that keep their earnings in offshore tax havens. These corporations, notes Alan Pyke in ThinkProgress, cost the United States between $30 billion and $90 billion each year during the early and middle 2000s, “when the pile of untaxed corporate profits” hadn’t yet grown to today’s levels.

So let me see if I understand this. A social safety net that would allow my housekeeper a couple of weeks to recuperate from her heart attack is “charity” that would promote “an unhealthy dependency.” But the transfer of trillions of taxpayer dollars to businesses that hoard their profits, don’t hire new workers, and use every trick in the book to evade paying their fair share of taxes is common-sense encouragement of entrepreneurship.

It’s high time we challenged the meme assiduously promoted by the super-rich and their apologists, the delusional and self-congratulatory notion that they are the diligent and productive “makers” while those like my housekeeper are somehow the “takers.”

The evidence suggests that it’s the other way around.

Sheila Suess Kennedy, J.D. is Professor of Law and Public Policy in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University Purdue University at Indianapolis. Her scholarly publications include eight books and numerous law review and journal articles. Professor Kennedy is a columnist for the Indianapolis Business Journal and a frequent lecturer, public speaker and contributor to popular periodicals. She blogs at