Grassroots Commentary

Yes Is No

Thomas Berry · Feb. 27, 2012

“As God is faithful, our word to you is not ‘yes’ and ‘no’” - I Corinthians 1:18.

With his commitment to unambiguity and plainspokeness, St. Paul would have never made it in government and politics, where the deliberate fuddling of language has always been practiced to one extent or another. This is especially so in the present day.

Consider how monetary policy is discussed. It is highly fashionable for politicians to boast of how hard they’re working – typically without rest, as in President “I-will-not-rest-until …” Obama of the frequent vacations – to cut spending. The problem is that few if any succeed, even if actual spending reductions were their intention in the first place.

“Yes” is “No” in government spending cuts because a cut as government defines it is very often not a cut at all. Under the principle of baseline budgeting, money is allocated for various departments and programs year after year, and each year’s spending is automatically authorized to be higher than the previous year’s.

In governmentese, spending cuts occur when the rate of increase is reduced. In other words, a spending cut is claimed if spending increases five percent instead of six.

Worse, a cancelled debt can be considered taxable income. Circumstances vary, but if for instance you lose your home, the IRS may consider the discharge of the mortgage and the resulting relief to your budget to be same for their purposes as someone giving you the amount you owed on the mortgage. You’re no longer obligated to pay this debt, so the IRS may try to seize from you a portion of what you won’t be paying.

Never mind that debts are often cancelled because you’re bankrupt and unable to pay them. Uncle Sam’s enforcers may still decide to confiscate from you what you do not even have, hardship be damned.

President Obama is guilty of this tortured reasoning on numerous fronts. In this context, he believes that a tax cut is an expense to the government that has to be paid for. Lamentably, many Republicans have bought into this as well: Witness the “How we’re going to pay for it” nonsense about the so-called payroll tax cut (more on that shortly).

Calling a reduction in income an expense is as dishonest, if not as cruel, as calling the discharge of debt due to financial hardship a form of taxable income. Income and expenses are entirely different, whether in government or in your checkbook. You earn (or, in the government’s case, confiscate at gunpoint) income, and what you spend, either by necessity or choice, is an expense.

If your income is reduced, your expenses didn’t increase; you have less available to spend. The absurdity of the “tax cuts are expenses” schtick is highlighted by the tendency of tax cuts to create net increases in tax revenues through increased economic activity, and it’s driven home by Obama’s utter refusal to make meaningful spending cuts while prolonging economic stagnancy.

In like manner, President Obama is fond of saying he saved the government money by ending the war in Iraq, and using what would have been spent therein to pad the bottom line of his budget projections.

He did end the war in Iraq – by arbitrarily declaring it over, regardless of reality, with little or no gain for anyone but Iran. The money that was spent in Iraq is not being saved; it is being squandered as interest payments on his deficits begin to mount while domestic spending still grows. Moreover, Harry Truman didn’t save $400 billion or so in 1946 by eliminating spending on World War II; the war ended when the enemy surrendered.

For that matter, in this year’s State of the Union address, Obama denounced alleged misreporting of financial data by businesses – before submitting a budget, which he called “Winning the Future” (most appropriately abbreviated WTF), that is rife with the very deception he condemned.

As for the payroll tax cut, what was cut was the withholding for Social Security – which will serve only to buy votes from the gullible while hastening the program’s bankruptcy as Baby Boomers begin to descend upon it.

It’s all like the fallacy of saying you saved money by buying something on sale that you don’t need. Sure, you saved a few dollars by buying at a reduced price; but you would have saved the entire amount by not buying at all.

Deceit, falsehood and folly like this is so typically human that we will never be rid of it. But voting out of office those who practice it at least gives the chance to diminish its pervasive stench and make a fresh start.

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