The Tax Relief frame illustrates how frames control public debate.
It is time for progressives to fight back with frames that effectively
and honestly represent the progressive view of taxation.
When a frame is applied to an issue, it leads people to think and
reason about the issue in a specific way. Suddenly, certain conclusions
seem to become inevitable and others become nearly impossible. This
is what framing is about.
The phrase tax relief evokes a frame, and the choice of this phrase
(instead of tax cuts or tax reduction, for example) is no accident
Conservatives know what they are doing with this use of language.
When we hear the word relief, we immediately know that in the situation
there is an affliction or burden, a victim of the affliction, and
someone who helps us by relieving the affliction.
Without relief, there is continued suffering. Since no one wants
suffering, we see anyone who interferes with the relief as a bad
guy as someone who must be defeated. This in turn sets
up the reliever as a kind of hero. Every time the phrase tax relief
is heard or read by millions of people, the more this view, which
sets up taxation as an affliction and conservatives as heroes, gets
Once citizens, influenced by media, accept tax relief as the right
words to use when discussing taxes, it becomes almost impossible
to see why taxes sometimes should go up instead of down, or to point
out who is not paying their fair share.
It is critical for progressives to reframe the tax debate-to demonstrate
the logic of how taxes support and extend the basic American values
of protection, freedom, opportunity, fairness, and community.
New Frames for Taxes
As progressives, we do not believe that taxes are necessarily an
affliction. Instead, we think of taxes as investments that give
us dividends. And, every patriotic American pays their fair share,
to support their country. Taxes are the way we support the common
Taxes Are Investments
Conservatives regularly claim that, you know how to spend
your money better than the government does. This is by no
means always true. In a great many cases, the government has invested
our tax money wisely, and we have reaped enormous dividends. For
instance, take our highway system paid for by taxpayer investments.
Imagine trying to take your tax cut and use it to build a highway
system? Or take the Internet it was paid for with taxpayer
investments, as was the development of computer chips. Imagine trying
to use your tax cut to invent and build the Internet, and design
and make chips for all of our computer uses? Through our education
system, as well as through the NSF (National Science Foundation),
and NIH (National Institutes of Health), our wise taxpayer investments
have trained generations of scientists and medical researchers.
Imagine trying to take your tax cut to train doctors and scientists.
Dependence on taxpayer investments is even more extreme for corporations.
Taxpayers pay for all of our government financial institutions -
our national banks, the Federal Reserve, the Securities and Exchange
Commission, the Treasury and Commerce departments, as well as our
courts, of which 90% is used for corporate law. When someone wants
to start a business, they do not have to build highways, the internet,
educate scientists, found banks, or start a court system from scratch.
They are all there waiting for you, courtesy of taxpayers. These
are taxpayer dividends.
Our taxes are investments that pay extraordinary dividends. No
investment, no dividends. Some of the most important dividends are
economic growth and jobs.
Fairness: Everyone Pays Their Fair Share
It costs money to run America tax money. Somebody is paying,
and if others do not pay their fair share, then you are paying for
them. Large corporations and the wealthy used to pay their fair
share. They do not anymore. That means you are paying their taxes.
Is that fair?
Fair taxation means we all pay our way, and we all pay our fair
share. The wealthiest Americans use our public infrastructure more
than anyone else, and they use parts of it that other people do
not. For example:
* An overwhelming percentage of state and federal court time is
devoted to corporate law. Businesses and corporations rely on a
smoothly functioning court system to negotiate disputes and ensure
contracts are upheld.
* The Securities and Exchange Commission and all the apparatus of
the Commerce Department are mainly used by the wealthy.
* Companies depend on sound roads, railways and ports to transport
* Companies benefit from an educated workforce, and the scientific
and technological research that we have all paid for.
We all pay in to maintain these resources, but corporations and
wealthy people use more of our public resources than an ordinary
family does so it only makes sense that they pay accordingly.
That is what progressive taxation is all about. We all pay our fair
share to support America corporations should, too.
Patriotism: Patriotic Americans Pay Their Taxes
Taxes are an issue of patriotism. Are you paying your dues, or
are you trying to get something for free at the expense of your
Patriotic Americans pay their taxes. Taxes maintain the investments
we made to build roads, schools and hospitals - we pay our dues
to make sure they remain in good repair and available for our use.
Taxes support the infrastructure and services that protect us-the
military, our police officers, and our firefighters. As a community,
we contribute our taxes so that all of us are safe. We pay our taxes
because we love our country and want to support it and our fellow
Americans it is an issue of patriotism.
Taxes Are Our Dues
Taxes are our dues we pay our dues to be Americans and enjoy
the benefits of American society. Taxes are what we pay to live
in a civilized society that is democratic, offers opportunity, and
has a huge infrastructure available to all citizens. This incredible
infrastructure has been paid for by previous taxpayers. Roads and
highways, the Internet, the broadcast airwaves, our public education
system, our power grid every day we all use this vast infrastructure.
Our dues maintain it.
It is about being a member, a part of the community. People pay
a membership fee to join a gym, the local YMCA, or a club for which
they get to use the basketball courts, the swimming pool, and the
golf course. They did not pay for these facilities with their own
memberships. They were built and paid for by other members, and
all the current members maintain them with their dues. It is the
same thing with our country being a member in good standing
of a remarkable nation. Americans pay their dues.
These ideas need to be turned into frames that are commonplace
in the minds of most Americans so commonplace that they define
our common sense about what taxation is. Once that happens, we will
be able to use two-word phrases like tax investments and tax dividends
and everyone will know what we are talking about.
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