The phrase “Taxpayer’s money” is right-wing propaganda

The phrase “taxpayer’s money” is almost always propaganda that should be resisted by all who support progressive politics. A better phrase is “public money”, so why do so many news media articles use it? Probably laziness because it is used in press releases by “small government” propagandists who want to cut taxes, usually in the context of pointing out what they claim is waste.

Public money is the property of the entire public, not of taxpayers. Nobody complains of corporations wasting “customer’s money”. Once you have paid the store for your groceries, it is their money not yours. The grocery store then spends it according to their wishes, just as governments spend public money according to the wishes of their employers, the public.

When public money is wasted, it is rarely the taxpayer who suffers through tax increases, as they have powerful, vocal support, it is more likely poverty reduction, infrastructure, environmental protection or other vital services that receive less money.

Search any newspaper’s web site for the word “taxpayer” and you will find that only a few cases actually refer to the act of paying taxes, or how much they are paying. In fact, there is no such thing as a generic taxpayer. There are many different kinds of taxes in most countries. Some of them are taxes on goods and services, some are taxes on income, some are fees paid for the right to use or abuse the environment, such as royalties on resource extraction, vehicle taxes or carbon taxes, or are used to discourage harmful practices or at least recover the additional costs due to damage to people’s’ health.

In most uses of the word, “taxpayer” is, instead, more accurately replaced by “public”. For example, an editorial in the scientific journal Nature, the subtitle refers to “the needs and employment prospects of taxpayers, who have seen little benefit from scientific advances1”. What has their status with regard to taxation got to do with people’s needs and employment prospects?

A search of my daily newspaper returns thousands of hits. I picked the first two in chronological order. The first referred to American “taxpayers’ money” being “wasted” on environmental protection and the second to a local school board whose trustees were taking frequent trips to Europe. Yes, the money came from taxes, but since it is not just taxpayers who lose if the US pulls out of the Paris Accord and since the school board is cutting resources in schools, rather than raise taxes, in that case it is school children who lose on their education and they don’t pay much by way of taxes.

This may seem a minor point but words matter. “Taxpayer” is generally used by those who want to shrink government so that they can better exploit other people and the environment. In Canada, there is a “Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation”. They claim to be in favour of lower taxes and more government accountability, but they are not, as their name suggests, a broadly based organization of taxpayers, but have a voting membership of six. They also claim to have  30,156 “donors”, a rather limited set. They are currently campaigning against a carbon tax, characterizing it as a “tax grab” rather than an attempt to shift money from an economy that is destroying the environment to one that is sustainable.

  1. 23 February, 2017

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