Exercise in Obfuscation: Semantics on Taxes Won't Change Reality
There is one subject that comes up in every election cycle. Sometimes it is a hot topic; sometimes it is relatively benign. This year, it is going to be at the top of candidates' minds, but nobody is going to want to talk about it.
That subject is taxes. In the midst of national and global bankruptcy, the so-called Bush tax cuts are set to expire, and the politicians will be happy to let that happen and get more of your money. They will use semantics to attempt to obfuscate reality.
As has been the custom for many years, they, along with the entire federal establishment, will insist on calling any reduction in tax revenue an expense to the government. As the Congressional Budget Office put it: "Extending the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts and continuing to update the alternative minimum tax ... would cost over $3 trillion in 2011-2020."
We all know the government can't afford any more expenses, so we should just let those costly tax cuts expire.
You can debate as long as you like the merits of tax increases or reductions, but a tax not owed is not an expense to the government; it is nothing; it has no impact on an operating statement - even the feds'. To call it an expense is to imply that the money belonged to the government in the first place. It did not. It belonged to you and me. It would be as if I said all the money earned by anyone in the world is an expense to me because I didn't get it. This is known as Idi Amin economics.
A government expense is buying an aircraft carrier, or funding the Cowgirl Hall of Fame, or paying for a congressional junket, all worthwhile endeavors, no doubt. It is not not receiving revenue.
The media are usually complicit in this deception, though it may be because they are not smart enough to figure it out. How many times have you heard some reporter breathlessly say something like, "The proposed expensive tax cuts will only increase the budget deficit"?
Wrong. Spending increases the deficit. Raising taxes might reduce it if the revenues were managed competently, but that's another discussion.
This may seem like nitpicking, but think about it. The fiscal presumption in Washington has reached the point where the politicians believe they have a right to all your money, and anything left over for you is an expense to them. This is not a mindset likely to get control of the budget.
Surely all those bean counters who plan budgets for the White House and congressional committees understand that money not owed is not an expense. It is even possible that some of their bosses do. It's just that it sounds so much better politically to frame it their way. After all, who can blame officeholders for those darned selfish citizens costing our poor, deprived government all that money by not paying taxes they don't owe?
Taxes they do owe are a different matter. A tax assessed but uncollected should be treated like any bad debt. IRS goons (those are just figurative goons, of course) should make every effort to collect the money, doing battle with television lawyers as required, and, if they fail in the end, the money should be written off. That is an actual expense.
Semantics will not change reality, and most taxpayers are hopefully too smart to fall for the verbal confiscation of their money. Taxes are going to go up. Our fiscal situation requires it. We don't need our duly elected spendthrifts to confuse actual revenues with their largesse-laden pipe dreams. They have been doing that too long already.
Fred Wolferman lives in Southern Pines. Contact him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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