We have previously discussed how there appears to an ever-expanding list of words deemed inappropriate or biased. It appears “taxpayer” may be the next suspect noun. While Republicans and Democrats alike have made pitches to protecting taxpayers, New Republic’s Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig wrote an article objecting that the use of the word in the 2016 budget is problematic and that we should start to view the noun as yet another loaded and coded word.
In a recent article, Breunig noted that the Republican budget uses “taxpayers” rather than the “people” to marginalize the many Americans who do not pay any taxes. The noun, she argues, “seems to subtly promote the idea that a person’s share in our democratic governance should depend upon their contribution in taxes.”
Here is the evidence cited:
In the 43-page budget, the word “taxpayer” and its permutations appear 24 times, as often as the word “people.” It’s worthwhile to compare these usages, because the terms are, in a sense, rival ideas. While “people” designates the broadest possible public as the subject of a political project, “taxpayer” advances a considerably narrower vision—and that’s why we should eliminate it from political rhetoric and punditry.
Though addressing people as “taxpayers” is common enough to appear politically neutral, it tends to carry more argumentative weight than it’s typically credited with. The House budget is full of examples of seemingly straightforward deployments of the term which are, upon closer inspection, clearly furthering a particular ideology.
One example that she cites is the use of the noun when discussing food stamps in the following passage:
Food stamps, public housing assistance, and development grants are judged not on whether they achieve improved health and economic outcomes for the recipients or build a stronger community, but on the size of their budgets. It is time these programs focus on core functions and responsibilities, not just on financial resources. In so doing this budget respects hard-working taxpayers who want to ensure their tax dollars are spent wisely.
Bruenig argues that “as the Republican authors of this budget know well, the beneficiaries of welfare programs tend to receive more in benefits than they pay in taxes, because they are in most cases low-income. The ‘taxpayers’ this passage has in mind, therefore, don’t seem to be the recipients of these welfare programs, but rather those who imagine that they personally fund them. By this logic, the public is divided neatly into makers and takers, to borrow the parlance of last election’s Republicans.”
I disagree with this view because politicians have long justified their expenditures to “the taxpayers” to assure them that their financial contributions to the treasury are being spent wisely and fairly. Even President Obama has repeatedly pitched his programs as protecting the interests of “taxpayers” as in his 2015 speech on the auto bailout.
What do you think?