Emotive, Manipulative Phrases In The Tax Debate You Need To Stop Using Right Now

2012 December 3
by Kyle Bumpus
from → Commentary

Everybody loves a good debate. Open debate is as American as baseball and apple pie, right? Wrong. People don’t like to debate, they like to argue, which is completely different. Oh, argumentative people will often tell you they’re just debating, but they’re lying. You can tell by the words they choose to advocate their position.

What’s The Difference Between A Debate And An Argument?

A debate is fact-based and free of emotion. Sure, it’s nearly impossible for somebody to remain completely unemotional about a topic they believe in, but you can still use fact-based language to make your point. The point of a level debate is to share different viewpoints and hopefully learn something from the experience. It doesn’t really matter who wins or loses, only that both sides come away with a better understanding of the opposing viewpoint (and hopefully a deeper understanding of their own). This is healthy.

An argument is different. Where a debate’s main aim is to disseminate knowledge, the only purpose of an argument is to win. Misleading comments or outright lies are acceptable in an argument if it helps your side win. Unfortunately, probably 99% of the “debates” out there are actually arguments (this includes presidential debates, by the way) because the point isn’t to increase anybody’s understanding of anything. No, the point is merely to get your way. Some people place no ethical limits on what they’re willing to do to win an argument; however, most people aren’t so blatant about it. They will convince themselves that since they aren’t telling outright lies, they’re morally in the clear. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. An emotive argument is a manipulation technique, plain and simple. XYZ is evil? Of course nobody is going to argue that such an evil thing isn’t bad! An oversimplification of the issue? Of course, but it’s not too far off. When you artificially cast something negatively by associating it with something obviously bad, it can deeply impact how a person reacts to that thing on a subconscious basis. That’s manipulation. Subtle manipulation, but manipulation nonetheless.

Enter The “Emotive” Argument

An emotive argument is one relying primarily on an emotional plea to make a point. Note that while emotive arguments are often without substance, they don’t have to be. It’s perfectly possible to wrap a reasonable, fact-based argument in an emotive plea in an attempt to make it more appealing . Emotive arguments work because they tend to bypass a person’s critical thinking module and skip straight to the “holy crap we cannot tolerate this horrible thing any longer!”

One common example I’ve covered before is the “debt is slavery” argument. Now, few would argue that debt is always good and practically nobody would argue that consumer debt is good, but few if any (and I use the word “few” here generously) reasonable people would seriously argue that all debt is bad enough to warrant it being associated with something so clearly negative as slavery. I get the argument, I really do: it is reasonable to assert that even so-called “good” debt can often be more bad than good because, for example, the borrower overvalues the potential financial gain relative to the inherent loss of flexibility involved. Lack of flexibility is bad, I agree, but if there are even greater advantages to be had, that’s not such a horrible thing. It’s just a trade-off, being neither more or less akin to “slavery” than anything else.

And here’s the problem. The word “slavery” has such a negative connotation that it’s difficult to have a productive debate about it. I can understand your argument that perhaps the advantages of leverage are overblown and debate constructively with you about it, but I cannot respond logically when you refer to debt as slavery.  By saying that, you’ve shut the conversation down. Most likely, I’m going to think “this person has obviously already made up their mind and feels very strongly about their position so there’s no point in even discussing it.” Bam, we’ve just lost the opportunity to learn from each other. You’ll go on thinking what you already thought and I’ll probably think you’re an idiot.

Emotive Phrases Related To The Tax Debate You Need To Stop Using Right Now

Taxes are a touchy subject, especially in/after a recession. Hence, there are plenty of emotive arguments out there.

If you ever find yourself using one of the following emotive terms in an argument, there’s a very high probability one of the following three things is true:

  1. You just like to argue for the sake of arguing.
  2. You only care about being right and probably not so much about the actual welfare of our nation. Oh sure, you may care about the state of the country, but you care about being right far more. Think long and hard before you deny this one.
  3. You’re an idiot.

“Fair Share”

What the hell is one’s “fair share,” anyway? Who determines it? What makes your plan more “fair” than somebody else’s? Please just drop the BS. We all know the only reason you are calling for Group X to pay their “fair share” is because you aren’t in Group X. It’s easy to claim it’s “fair” for everybody but you to pay more in taxes, isn’t it? I suggest a new tax policy, one that would completely eradicate the deficit and fix all our financial troubles: my taxes should drop to 0% and everybody else’s should double. That sounds fair to me.


Oh please, do you even know how the tax code works? The lower rates on dividends and and 0% tax rates on municipal bond interest aren’t loopholes. They are explicitly written into in the tax code. Exploration and depletion allowance for oil companies? Ditto. They are standard and 100% correct tax write-offs. Oil companies aren’t sneaking them by anybody at the IRS. The fact is, there are very few if any tax loopholes available to the rich that aren’t also available to the middle class. I know that goes against conventional wisdom, but I assure you, it’s true. Using the term “loophole” just makes it sound some person or company is getting away with something sneaky and perhaps illegal. They aren’t. It’s called “following the rules.” If you don’t like the rules, it’s fine to advocate changing them. But trying to paint somebody else as the “bad guy” for doing exactly what the law says they should do is stupid.

“Offshore Accounts”

Contrary to popular beliefs, having offshore accounts doesn’t entitle one to a tax break. That’s not the reason wealthy individuals often open off-shore accounts. This is an argument I heard often about Mitt Romney in the recent presidential race, and it’s pretty ridiculous. Saying this just makes it obvious you have no idea what you’re talking about.

“The Rich”

As if wealthy individuals are some monolithic entity. Just like any other group, they have diverse interests, beliefs, and behaviors. Ordinarily this wouldn’t be such an emotive term, after all, rich people are rich, right? But lately, it’s been used as a disparaging term so often that it must be included on the no-no list. Use “wealthy” or “high income”  instead, if you must.

“Conservative/Liberals Hate America/The Economy/Jesus/X/Y/X”

Do I really have to explain this one? You see this statement all the freaking time on the internet, usually followed by a few dozen people exclaiming how right the original comment is. Way to encourage productive debate, geniuses.

Obviously, sarcasms is exempt from my no-emotive-arguments rule because it’s usually at least hilarious. What are some of the emotive arguments you just can’t stand?

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2 Responses
  1. 2012 December 3

    Other emotive arguments that come to mind: “war on christmas “, “real Americans”, “job creators”, “we’re a center right nation ” and whatever else Fox News is going to come up with tonight.

  2. 2012 December 4

    I would consider the term “Fox News” to be an emotive argument at this point.

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