Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Trickle Up and Trickle Down


Trickle down economics refers to the view that the profits of the rich ultimately trickle down to the poor.  Specifically, for example, tax cuts that benefit the rich motivate them to invest and the growth that results from that investment benefits everyone.

An alternative view, as the humorous Will Rogers famously quipped, is that money trickles up.  “Give it to the people at the bottom,” he said, “and the people at the top will have it before night, anyhow. But at least it will have passed through the poor fellow’s hand’s.”

Had that thought been in President Obama’s mind when Governor Romney coined a new term in the debate on Wednesday by charging him with favoring trickle down government, he might have responded:  “Thank you governor.  You are right.  I do favor programs that help to eliminate poverty.  I favor them since the benefits of such programs trickle down to the rest of us.

“You see governor, the tax cuts you favor were tried by President George W. Bush.  And what was the result?  There were about 33 million people in our country living in poverty at the beginning of his term and about 46 million at the end.

“So even laying aside the argument that poverty amidst plenty is ethically unacceptable I favor trickle down government programs to eliminate it.  I favor those programs because poverty is harmful to rich and poor alike.  Poor adults are less likely to have the education and health care they require to become productive citizens and, therefore, more likely to turn to turn to activities that land them in jail.

“How, then, can we eliminate poverty?  From the point of view of economists absolute poverty is the result of a lack of the potential to produce goods and services and/or the poor performance of the economy and/or a skewed distribution of income.  But the U.S. does not lack the potential to produce enough to lift every one of its citizens above the poverty line.  And, even during the Great Recession years real per capita income in the U.S. was more than sufficient to provide every family with a decent material standard of living. So absolute poverty in our country must be the result of how income is distributed.

“Therefore, when I appeal to the richest among us to pay a bit more in taxes for government programs to support the poor I am appealing to them to do what is in their own best interest.  And since income distribution in our country as measured by the Gini coefficient, is more unequal than in any other developed country, even George Soros and William Buffett, two of the richest among us, agree that what you term trickle down government is called for.”

Had President Obama responded to Governor Romney’s comment like that he would have hit the ball out of the park.   But alas, though the term middle class cropped up 31 times during the debate neither the words “poor” or “poverty” crossed the President’s lips even once.   Score one for the governor.

PAUL CANTOR is a professor of economics at Norwalk Community College in Connecticut.

Clearance Sale of Vintage

CounterPunch T-Shirts!

We’ve marked down some of CounterPunch’s most popular t-shirts to only $8.00,including the CP shirt featuring Alexander Cockburn’s own scrawl.


More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 26, 2016
John W. Whitehead
A Deep State of Mind: America’s Shadow Government and Its Silent Coup
Eric Draitser
Dear Liberals: Trump is Right
Anthony Tarrant
On the Unbearable Lightness of Whiteness
Mark Weisbrot
The Most Dangerous Place in the World: US Pours in Money, as Blood Flows in Honduras
Chris Welzenbach
The Establishment and the Chattering Hack: a Response to Nicholas Lemann
Luke O'Brien
The Churchill Thing: Some Big Words About Trump and Some Other Chap
Sabia Rigby
In the “Jungle:” Report from the Refugee Camp in Calais, France
Linn Washington Jr.
Pot Decriminalization Yields $9-million in Savings for Philadelphia
Pepe Escobar
“America has lost” in the Philippines
Pauline Murphy
Political Feminism: the Legacy of Victoria Woodhull
Lizzie Maldonado
The Burdens of World War III
David Swanson
Slavery Was Abolished
Thomas Mountain
Preventing Cultural Genocide with the Mother Tongue Policy in Eritrea
Colin Todhunter
Agrochemicals And The Cesspool Of Corruption: Dr. Mason Writes To The US EPA
October 25, 2016
David Swanson
Halloween Is Coming, Vladimir Putin Isn’t
Hiroyuki Hamada
Fear Laundering: an Elaborate Psychological Diversion and Bid for Power
Priti Gulati Cox
President Obama: Before the Empire Falls, Free Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal
Kathy Deacon
Plus ça Change: Regime Change 1917-1920
Robin Goodman
Appetite for Destruction: America’s War Against Itself
Richard Moser
On Power, Privilege, and Passage: a Letter to My Nephew
Rev. William Alberts
The Epicenter of the Moral Universe is Our Common Humanity, Not Religion
Dan Bacher
Inspector General says Reclamation Wasted $32.2 Million on Klamath irrigators
David Mattson
A Recipe for Killing: the “Trust Us” Argument of State Grizzly Bear Managers
Derek Royden
The Tragedy in Yemen
Ralph Nader
Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think
Norman Pollack
Centrist Fascism: Lurching Forward
Guillermo R. Gil
Cell to Cell Communication: On How to Become Governor of Puerto Rico
Mateo Pimentel
You, Me, and the Trolley Make Three
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases
John Grant
Humanizing Our Militarized Border
Franklin Lamb
US-led Sanctions Targeting Syria Risk Adjudication as War Crimes
Paul Bentley
There Must Be Some Way Out of Here: the Silence of Dylan
Norman Pollack
Militarism: The Elephant in the Room
Patrick Bosold
Dakota Access Oil Pipeline: Invite CEO to Lunch, Go to Jail
Paul Craig Roberts
Was Russia’s Hesitation in Syria a Strategic Mistake?
David Swanson
Of All the Opinions I’ve Heard on Syria
Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future