Who should pay? The Other guy.

Posted on by Methossa and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

The latest political topic that the media’s been selling narratives about is the different plans that have been set forth to handle America’s national debt. You can find plenty of solid to poor analyses of the plans, but piggy-backing off of Pastabagel’s post on what’s bothering you today, the important thing to focus on is people’s reactions to the discussion.
McClatchy Newspapers put out a story recently that discussed the reception House Republicans have received at town halls in their districts, with heavy Democratic turnout that the writer contrasts to the anti-healthcare turnout Republicans did. Most of the arguments on the issue come down to cut entitlements or raise taxes. But no matter which side you fall on, the thing to watch in discussions is how people phrase the discussion.

I won’t destroy Medicare,” Barletta replied. “Medicare is going to be destroyed by itself.” Christman talked over the congressman, telling him to pay for Medicare by taxing the wealthy.

The article paraphrases, but when someone’s interrupting you can usually guess the tone and word choice, and even if that isn’t the case most of you have heard a variation of the phrase “Tax the rich!” Saying “Raise taxes for people making more than $200,000″ or leaving it at “Raise taxes.” are different beasts. The first one specifies a quantitative cut-off point that you might not be a part of, and the second one leaves it open-ended to your own inclusion in it. “Tax the rich” separates you from the rich. Someone deserves to pay for it, and it’s not you. It probably isn’t any of your friends who are average middle class Americans. If not you and yours, then who?
The Other.

The Other isn’t unique to the rich vs. all of us narrative, it’s just as common in every other political gap. Look at the other side of tax cuts with entitlement reform. “Cap Medicare to GDP”, “means-test Social Security” also leave you open to the possibility of being someone who loses out. “Get rid of the welfare queens” and “People just don’t want to work anymore” all are statements about yourself. You and your family are good hard-working Americans who pay your share of taxes and then some, you deserve a (tax) break.

This isn’t just a question of detailed solutions against generic solutions. Pay attention to how angry people are with the phrasing they choose as well. “Tax the rich”/”People need to work harder” both come with a sense of grievance and entitlement. All you want is your fair share. These perspectives are questions of identity. That means that discussing issues with them is an attack against who they are. They aren’t open to changing their minds.
There’s the question then: How do you shift the argument from pathos to logos for someone who’s firmly stuck on the emotional side of the issues? And where the hell did ethos go?

The quickest path to any destination is just a straight line. 

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12 Responses to Who should pay? The Other guy.

  1. octo says:

    saying “Everyone thinks someone else should pay” but using “The Other” isn’t really saying anything new.

    Also, is it just me or do half your links not work?

    • Methossa says:

      The thing I was trying to point out with it is the personal identity issue with ‘someone else should pay’ and the difficulty of communicating with people who are tied to that. I had hoped to see what other people thought of overriding people’s emotional responses on things where ‘Show, don’t tell’ isn’t an option for demonstrating things to them. I was also curious what people thought the role of ethos should be.

      The links are broken, sorry about that. I had issues with the submission page not working, so I had to e-mail the post as a word doc. In the process it looks like some linebreaks got inserted into my URLs. I’ll send one to Pastabagel immediately, as a .txt rather than a .docx.

  2. Pastabagel says:

    (FYI, I updated the post at the poster’s request)

  3. Guy Fox says:

    Great post. As for the case of the missing Ethos, if you can’t count it, it doesn’t count. If you assume that identity determines the position people are going to take on the issue, then Ethos, like the rest, will be derivative of that. We can get economists to run SVAR models of different tax structures to tell us “If you do X, you eliminate the deficit/pay off the debt in Y years; if you do P, it’ll take Q years.” Even if they were accurate, they wouldn’t be able to tell anybody what the ‘best’/’right’ course of action would be. Logos doesn’t help much. And if you ask 100 people what the ‘fair’/’just’/’proper’ course of action is, you’ll get more answers than you had identities to start with (since we draw a lot of our identity from media, and the variance of this input is finite, there’s going to be overlap in the 100 person sample, but this is likely to be less restricted on abstract, impersonal concepts). So not only is finding a common denominator more difficult when dealing with Ethos than Pathos, but where you stand depends on where you sit. Ethos is, tragically, probably less practicable than, and derivative of, Pathos, and Logos gets left behind while crunching the 3rd derivative.

  4. yossarian says:

    Jeez, I don’t understand this post at all.

  5. JohnJ says:

    The tax breaks aren’t the problem. It’s the people who are receiving more than they pay in who are the problem. Even if you got a 100% tax break, the most that would do is leave you breaking even. Getting people addicted to the government dole is how big corporations get their billions of dollars in subsidies. Americans aren’t virtuous enough to deny themselves the vice of government money. Instead, we elect politicians who will help us rationalize our greed.

  6. ThomasR says:

    That other guy is a jerk. Taking away my benefits and not paying any taxes!

    Seriously though, I don’t see a solution. So I learned Chinese (not kidding, I’m in Shanghai right now).

  7. CubaLibre says:

    Are most people really this petty? My own view is to tax the rich, i.e. me. I am rich. Or rather, I was born of the rich, am post-school poor currently, but will be rich in short order. I have no objection, in fact I feel a moral duty, to chip in to help those who didn’t have the benefit of being randomly born to rich white professionals. I just wish that corporations, if they’re so much like “people,” would be taxed like people as well.

    • JohnJ says:

      If you feel a moral duty, you can always give to charity. Most people don’t want the government to enforce one person’s morality on someone else.

      • CubaLibre says:

        Sure they do. Progressive taxation is an immensely popular scheme.

        • JohnJ says:

          Okay, good point. But most people don’t think of progressive taxation in those terms. If you phrase the question the way I did, most would say that the government shouldn’t force moral standards on people. (Maybe this just means that most people are inconsistent in their beliefs. I would imagine most people on this blog believe that to be true.)

          And the flat tax, while not as popular as the progressive tax, is still pretty popular.

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