Stop using the word “Taxpayer”

The word “taxpayer”, as generally used, is propaganda that should be resisted by all who support progressive politics. It is too often used where the word “public,” “citizen” or “resident” would be more appropriate. It is no shorter than these words, so why do so many news media articles use it in place of “public”.  Governments are responsible to the interests of the public as a whole, not solely to taxpayers.

The word is very frequently found combined into the phrase “taxpayers’ money”, when the more appropriate phrase is “public money”. Yes, most public money came from taxes, but most corporation’s money comes from their customers, yet when we think corporations are spending unwisely, we don’t complain about them wasting “customers’ money”.  Once the money is paid to the corporation, it belongs to them, just as once taxes are paid, it is public money.

When public money is wasted, there is then less money to be paid in provision of infrastructure, services and other benefits to the population.

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, characterising 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