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No Labels Discuss Taxpayers

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No Labels, the autonomous political group expressing interest in a third-party presidential campaign, has issued a policy manifesto.

The document elaborates on the group’s rhetorical commitment to commonsense solutions by speaking extensively about “taxpayers.”

If you search the No Labels booklet for the term “tax,” you will find 19 instances.

Few contain substantial discussion of fiscal policy, such as Social Security, budgeting, and various tax credits.

However, “tax” appears seven times as part of “taxpayer.” Furthermore, as noted by Cornell University historian Lawrence B. Glickman, “taxpayer” is a politically charged term.

On the one hand, “taxpayer” is a straightforward descriptor of a person who pays money to the government via some form of coercion. Ultimately, taxes are not voluntary. Otherwise, they would be considered gifts.

It is possible to make a donation to the federal government through a special account established in 1843 by the Treasury Department for “individuals wishing to express their patriotism to the United States.”

“Taxpayer” is a term that pertains to the majority of people in this country, and it is generally neutral.

Glickman notes, however, that conservatives have used the rhetoric of the “besieged taxpayer” to delegitimize government expenditure since the 1930s.

By emphasizing the burden of taxation rather than the benefits of expenditure, New Deal critics used “taxpayerism” to incite opposition. Since then, the vernacular of taxpayerism has persisted.

In contemporary political discourse, “taxpayer” has supplanted “citizen” in many ways.

The term has become so commonplace that even a significant number of liberals and progressives employ it without reflection.

This is justifiable when “taxpayer” is used to characterize a person engaged in the process of paying taxes, which is an essential aspect of citizenship in and of itself.

Paying taxes is essential to what I and many other scholars refer to as “fiscal citizenship,” the set of rights and responsibilities that bond the state to the individual¬† and vice versa.

We owe taxes to the state, and the state owes us certain things in return. (Prior analysis: April 18, 2022, page 356 of Tax Notes Federal)

American flag design on the hands of a group of individuals raising their arms

When discussing the act of paying taxes, it is reasonable to refer to taxpayers.

It would be difficult to discuss the IRS without mentioning the taxpayers who interact with the agency, unless you persist on calling them “customers,” which always sounds Orwellian to me.

When discussing the function of government or the value of public spending, however, the language of taxpayerism is generally unhelpful.

Glickman has acknowledged, “Politicians should scrutinize how they spend money, and tax cuts should be on the menu of economic policy.”

However, when we only discuss “taxpayers” and rarely “citizens,” we end up speaking incessantly about cost and never about value.

To be true, No Labels discusses citizenship in its policy document, and not just within the immigration sections. The group defines its dedication to civic virtue, sacrifice, and national purpose.

However, No Labels has fallen into the pitfall of taxpayerist rhetoric, which will ultimately doom the type of idealistic project that No Labels seeks to promote.

Taxpayerism has perverted our political culture by denying the existence of a common good,” writes Glickman. Indeed, he is right.

Americans will never forge a consensus based on common sense until we place greater emphasis on the concept of the common interest.

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