Whenever a politician says something along the lines of “we don’t care about ideology, we care about what works,” get nervous. Such statements are usually followed up with misleading calls for compromise that invariably involve increased federal spending, higher taxes and more regulation. But rather than shrink from such rhetoric, conservatives should embrace it. After all, conservative ideas are the ones that work. The problem is that up until now, this case has not been made convincingly to the American people.
The conservative argument that taxes should be low for everyone should be a slam dunk. It works on every level of argument, and is equally defensible both on high-minded philosophical grounds and on purely practical terms. The fact that conservatives consistently lose this argument comes down to two things. The first is emotion: people simply don’t like the idea of tax breaks for the wealthy. There is an intuition that there is something fundamentally unfair about millionaires, who already have so much, getting lower taxes as well.
This emotional reaction is exacerbated by the second problem: the way in which conservatives frame the debate. The reason that liberals have been so successful in selling their ideas to the public has to do with the context in which they have been able to place the issues. They relate complex policies to people’s personal experiences in meaningful ways, and this finds great resonance with voters. Conservatives, on the other hand, tend to get bogged down in weighty discussions of principles and philosophies. These arguments may be logically sound, but they are too cold and distant from the realities of everyday life to have much of an impact. Most people don’t care about logic, they care about what seems right.
So while it may be true to say that people deserve to keep the fruits of their labors, saying so is not going to change anybody’s mind at this point. Fortunately for conservatives, however, this is by no means the only argument for low taxes, nor is it the most persuasive.
In his recent press conference, when asked about negotiations on the looming fiscal cliff, President Obama said that he was not interested in giving tax breaks to the rich who don’t need them. It is a sentiment he has expressed many times and it is a powerful argument, but it also allows conservatives to turn the tables and play the role of pragmatists for a change.
The question is not whether people making over $250,000 a year “need” tax breaks or indeed whether that income threshold even qualifies as “rich” anymore. Without conceding these points, Republicans would do well to set them aside for the time being and make a different argument. What the rich “need” is irrelevant; the question is how they will behave if their tax rates go up and what effect this behavior will have on the economy.
It is naïve to assume that rich people, who tend to be savvy with money, will not react to attempt to minimize their tax liability, and anyone even remotely versed in economics can predict that the consequences of these actions will not be a boon to growth. If the goal truly is, as everyone claims, to improve the economy and get Americans back to work, then shouldn’t we be willing to tolerate a policy which some may see as unfair for the good of the millions of people sinking into poverty as they continue to search for increasingly elusive jobs?
As Democrats are so fond of pointing out, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, so why not let a few millionaires keep their money if it means more prosperity for everyone else? If the Republicans in Congress were able to successfully frame the debate in this way, the president would find himself in the awkward position of arguing against economic growth simply in order to punish those whom he deems greedy, an argument that is far less likely to be popular with those still struggling to make ends meet.
Logan Albright is a writer in Washington, D.C. Image courtesy of Big Stock Photo.
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Joseph Hammond
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Emma Elliott Freire