In general, the American right praises tax cuts while condemning what they call “handouts.” Thanks to a well-established narrative, this seems to be a consistent and sensible position. People generally see taxes as a negative and taxes take money away from people as a cost. Hence, a tax cut can be presented as being positive since it results in taking less from people. And who would not want their taxes reduced? In contrast, while people might like money for nothing, handouts have been presented in a negative light. The narrative is that while a tax is wrongfully taking away from a person who has earned their money, a handout is giving money to someone who does not deserve it. But a tax cut is the same thing as a handout and this can be shown by the following.
Imagine that Richie Rich and Poor Paul are hungry and go to a restaurant. Richie Rich’s order is $100, which he therefore owes to the restaurant. Poor Paul, tired and hungry from working two jobs, digs around in his pocket and can only find $5, not enough to buy even a sandwich. The restaurant owner sees Paul’s plight and offers him a handout of $2 so he can buy a sandwich. Richie Rich scowls at this–he thinks that Paul should not receive that handout and, if he cannot afford a sandwich, he should go hungry. Or, as a bit of compassion arises in Rich’s soul, maybe buy $5 worth of food at Publix and make a sandwich at home. He turns towards Paul and says as much, feeling the righteous fire in his soul for having complained about this unearned handout. Paul says that he is in a hurry–he has another shift in twenty minutes. Rich scoffs at this, and explains the importance of time management and planning ahead.
After Richie Rich finishes his lunch, he gets the $100 bill. Outraged that he has been charged the full amount, he demands to speak to the manager and explains, in detail, that he earns his money, that he is a job creator and he gives money to charity. In response, the restaurant agrees to cut his bill down to $20. Paul looks over at Rich and says, “hey, looks like you got a handout, too.” Almost having a stroke, Rich yells at Paul that it was a bill cut and not a handout. Handouts are for lazy poor people. Bill cuts are for hard working job creators who have earned the cut. Paul points out that the effect is almost the same, though the bill cut seems way better: Paul got $7 worth of food for $5 while Rich got $100 worth of food for $20. Rich is enraged by this comparison and repeats that he is a job creator who earned his money while Paul is lazy and practically stealing from the restaurant. As he rushes towards the door to get to his next shift, Paul says that bill cuts and handouts are effectively the same.
There are, obviously, differences between the restaurant scenario and taxes but the core idea is the same: Having your bill cut by $2 is the same as being given a $2 handout: either way, the cost of your sandwich to you is $2 less. Having your taxes cut is the same as being given that amount of money: either way, you have more money than you would without the cut or handout. The main difference is rhetorical: as noted above, the narrative is that tax cuts are good (and usually earned) and that handouts are bad (and practically theft).
Originally appeared on A Philosopher’s Blog Read More