America is having a serious conversation on taxes and their impact on economic growth: The Obama administration is making the case for raising taxes by not extending the Bush tax cuts; Opponents counter that raising taxes in the midst of a weak economy would be disastrous.
For the record, we agree with the latter group. But this important discussion should not depend on a willful distortion of the English language. Yet, such an Orwellian perversion takes place every time people repeat that when government does not raise taxes it incurs a “cost.” Often this assertion is followed by the further twist that this “cost” must be “paid” by raising taxes elsewhere.
The worst practitioners have become the ever-clever journalists who besiege politicians on Sunday news shows with the following question: “but how are you going to pay for extending the Bush tax cuts, Senator?” Usually, the latter is too dumbstruck to answer.
This is wrong. It doesn’t cost our government anything to allow us to keep the money we have earned. When a tax is not raised, the people get to keep their money, and that’s it.
The Obama Administration and the Pelosi-Reid Congress specifically love this linguistic doublespeak. They love it because it hides many truths, including that government spending money—which is what the Obama Administration and the Pelosi-Reid Congress like to do—does represent a cost to the Treasury. It must be paid with taxes.
An otherwise sensible journalist in The Washington Post who is a strong supporter of Obama/Reid/Pelosi on Friday took things to new levels by referring to tax cuts as “government spending on auto-pilot.”
This is even more wrong. The people either spend their money themselves or put it in the bank. But that is the people making decisions on money that belongs to them. That is not a government spending program.
The reason we need to eradicate the Orwellian doublespeak is that it lulls us into the corrosive acceptance that all money belongs to the government; that when government does not raise taxes it is allowing us to keep our money.
It’s the reverse: The money belongs to the people who make it, before the tax man takes it away.
In his great essay, “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell warned that the English language “becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts … if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”
We shouldn’t let that happen. Let’s by all means have a debate on taxes and whether raising them or cutting them raises or lowers revenue for the Treasury. But let’s not pervert the English language.
You can follow Mike Gonzalez on Twitter @Gundisalvus