Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Welcome to 1984 (again)

One of the most memorable parts of George Orwell's 1984 was the use of language, in particular the way words were warped and tormented till they meant the exact opposite of what they said. For instance, if the Ministry of Truth said the sun came up in the east, you'd know the world had reversed its direction of spin, because nothing the Ministry ever said was accurate. You could count on them that way.

Well, I've been following the coverage of the "tax cut" legislation, and it seems to me I'm seeing exactly the same thing: words being used in such a way that their meaning is for all practical purposes reversed. The very phrase "tax cuts" is a lie: if the bill passes, nobody's taxes are going to go down. Got that? What this bill does is continues the tax rates that were put in place way back in 2001. The politicians are not cutting taxes; they're simply agreeing not to raise them (as would happen if the "sunset clause" of the '01 legislation were to take effect).

Why does this matter? Because people are making claims that this "tax cut" legislation is in some way an economic stimulus. Which it's not, which it can't be, because it's not actually changing anything. Jon Stewart's been having a field day on this subject, observing that the plan seems to be to stimulate the economy by doing nothing. It meets the classic definition of insanity: doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome. The economy's been staggering for the last few years. Keeping the tax rates the same is unlikely to change that. You may argue that raising taxes would make things worse, but you can't even bring up that argument as long as you cling to the faulty belief that the bill is a tax cut.

I've seen this kind of "we're cutting by not raising" nonsense before. Several years ago, the Ill-Annoy Tollway installed its "I-Pass" system, and announced that henceforth people who insisted on paying as they go, in cash, would have to pay twice as much. People who paid in advance and bought a transponder would not see an increase. The Tollway Authority described this as a "discount" for I-Pass users rather than calling it what it obviously was: a doubling of the price for people who didn't want to hand over a year's supply of toll money in advance. To my surprise, they pulled it off--even the Chicago Tribune went along and reported that I-Pass users receive a "discount." (We now see why they removed Colonel McCormick's phrase The World's Greatest Newspaper from their masthead some years back.)

Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but as far as I'm concerned keeping the tax rates the same is not a tax cut, and offering your customer the same price instead of a higher one is not giving a discount. Unless, of course, you're part of the Ministry of Truth...

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