Thursday, July 23, 2009

Six Wasted Syllables (for Paul Price)

On the Atlantic's Business Channel, Chris Good posts about the return of Bobby Jindal, noting that, given his expertise in health care policy, Jindal has taken advantage of the current debate over President Obama's proposed health care reform to tiptoe back into the national spotlight, now that memories of his awful response to the President's speech have faded. Good also links to Jindal's op/ed about health care policy in today's Wall Street Journal, "How to Make Health-Care Reform Bipartisan". One paragraph from Jindal's op/ed prompted the title of this post:

•Refundable tax credits. Low-income working Americans without health insurance should get help in buying private coverage through a refundable tax credit. This is preferable to building a separate, government-run health-care plan.

What would William Strunk, Jr. have called "refundable tax credits", if such a thing existed in his time? I'm guessing he'd call them what they are: "grants". I'm not sure why Jindal and other conservatives persist in wasting an additional six syllables on the longer euphemism. Perhaps it's so they can characterize government spending on such grants as tax relief instead of government spending, but, if so, this bit of obfuscation just plays into liberals' rhetoric on progressive tax policy. Most liberals are happy to characterize transfer payments to low-income Americans as tax relief, and to characterize tax cuts for the wealthy as a form of government spending. There doesn't seem to be much benefit to conservatives in conceding the rhetorical and policy ground on this, particularly since, as some smart centrists (e.g., Clive Crook) and even at least one smart liberal (Matt Yglesias) acknowledge, we are approaching the point of diminishing returns when it comes to increasing the progressivity of our tax system.

As both men have noted, if American liberals want to expand the welfare state raising taxes on the rich, by itself, won't be enough to pay for it; they'll have to raise taxes (by at least a modest amount) on everyone else. Yglesias has noted that countries such as Sweden, which have social safety nets envied by American liberals, also have much more regressive taxes than we do.


A Math Major said...

Re-fund-a-ble tax cred-its
= 7 syllables

DaveinHackensack said...

7 syllables ("refundable tax credits") - 1 syllable ("grants") = 6 wasted syllables.

W.C. Fields said...

As long as you're up...

Get me a Grant's.