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Monday, January 7, 2013

Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt: Big Business's Tax Code Strategy

Today's New York Times article titled "Major Companies Push the Limits of a Tax Break" strikes me as a microcosm of the challenges with the federal tax code.

It also reveals something else. It's a marketing strategy called FUD - Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt - and it's being used by the rich and powerful to protect tax codes which benefit them by making the rest of us afraid to support efforts to change or eliminate those tax loopholes.

The article describes a 90-year old tax code modification supposedly meant to be helpful to farmers and small businesses. When discussing tax codes as "helpful" it's important to always remember that that help comes with a price tag. That "help" means that the government isn't taxing a transaction. That, of course, means less tax revenues into the federal treasury and, like it or not, we will not see our federal debt lowered and our federal budget come closer to balance unless both sides of the ledger - expenses AND revenues - are tackled.

Don't get me wrong. I don't oppose every tax code meant to help businesses, especially small businesses. What I vehemently oppose is what seems to have happened here. It appears from this article that this incentive originally intended to benefit farmers and small businesses was eventually expanded and perverted into something that the likes of JPMorgan, Wells Fargo, and GE may have abused.

How does that happen and why aren't we capable of doing something about it?

Perhaps this is one possible answer.

Whenever the topic turns to the economy, business, and taxation, we seem to allow the rich and powerful to control the discussion and to set the framework for what to do next. We allow the to do this by employing a strategy those of us in the sales and marketing profession know as FUD - Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt. Here's how it works.

We allow them to manipulate and control us by controlling the discussion mostly through fear and with heavy doses of uncertainty and doubt. Too many of us are easily (and to some degree, justifiably) frightened by the threat of the loss of the most basic thing needed to survive in a modern society; namely and for starters, a job which pays enough (but not always enough) just for food and shelter.

The things that used to signal the arrival into the middle class - higher education, vacations, and even a little free time to pursue interests outside of two or three part-time jobs - are now available and affordable to fewer and fewer people. All this at a time when taxes are at historic lows, regulation on businesses of all types has been progressively shredded over the last 30 years, the wealth gap is wider than it's been since the Gilded Age, and the federal debt keeps ballooning.

When it comes to taxes, the rich and powerful use FUD to make the same argument they always make: the beneficial tax treatment of these "...asset exchanges spur investment and help create jobs." They frame the discussion about raising taxes and doing away with loopholes by saying that if they are taken away there will be less investment and fewer jobs. My response to that argument is pretty consistently this: if that's true then why is unemployment still just under 8% and why isn't the economy growing faster? You rich and powerful people are getting what you want and it's still not enough?

This is overly simplistic, I know, but I still believe it's a valid stance to take in this argument. It's still a legitimate way to tear down and take back the framing they want to use when it comes to the tax code. If tax breaks like this are so great, then why are we in the terrible state we're in and why aren't the rich and powerful investing more into a recovery?

And when it comes to changing the tax code as a means for helping to reverse the federal government's mounting debt, the discussion must be first and foremost about the sort of code changes like this one that benefit GE and Wells Fargo long before even thinking about code changes such as eliminating mortgage interest deductions.

It's far past the time to end the corporate welfare system. That must begin with changes to the corporate tax codes. They must pay more, not less. Corporations have already proven they'll adapt and, besides, how much more is left for them to outsource overseas? They've refused to do anything except hold us all hostage through fear of job loss while they sit atop record-setting profits.

It's time to call their bluff.

One of the greatest challenges we face for reversing tax codes that benefit only the strong, the wealthy, and the powerful is our ability and willingness to call them out on their FUD strategy and to tell them that, "We're mad as hell and..."Well, you know the rest.

More than that, our elected officials need to know they can't use FUD on us either. If they have the courage to stand up to big money and the power elite, then they need to know that we will stand with them. We need more people like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren who seem to actually care about the middle class enough to stand up to Wall Street, big corporations, and the infinitesimally small number of wealthy people in America who already have rigged the system far too long and far too much to their advantage.

The wealthy aren't doing anything much to help the rest of us, so why should we keep kowtowing to them and their interests? Let's close tax loopholes that benefit large and wealthy corporations. It's a better place to start than with my home mortgage interest deduction.

Click here to find your Congressional Representative and tell him/her what you think. It's the only way they'll know.

Click here to learn more about and to get involved with Coffee Party USA and the work they're doing to restore our democracy.

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