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Personalizing income

A reader e-mails:

We talk about tax cuts "for people making less than $250,000" not "tax cuts on income earned up to $250,000." We're linguistically making a person's income level a part of their identity. It's a subtle shift, but when people start identifying with their income, it's not hard to see where they get confused; if you were to suddenly become a "person who earns over $250,000 a year" then logically you wouldn't qualify for a tax cut for "people making less than $250,000."

The whole tax discussion would be a lot better if we weren't constantly personalizing income levels. At the very least it wouldn't be so easy to throw around accusation of "class warfare."

By Ezra Klein  | September 20, 2010; 4:25 PM ET
 
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Comments

I strongly agree. Once this is understood it becomes clear that everybody (including those with taxable income above $250,000) will receive a significant tax break under the administration's proposal. The first $250,000 earned even by high taxable income earners will stlll get the Bush tax breaks. Somebody should also emphasize that "small business owners" only pay taxes on their personal take home profits after expenses (like expenses from maybe hiring more employees).

Posted by: CFord4 | September 20, 2010 5:26 PM | Report abuse

Don't obfuscate the discussion, every $250,000 in income matters!

Posted by: Jaycal | September 20, 2010 5:49 PM | Report abuse

I think the reader's suggestion makes sense on a pragmatic, intellectual level. So it would be good to see reporters and analysts start to adopt this type of language to promote a more straight-forward dialogue. But politically speaking, it makes sense for both sides to personalize these tax brackets the way they do.

The D's want to frame this as: "Yes, we're in a pinch financially, but don't worry we'll only be taxing those other folks more, not you." (Obviously directed at the voters w/ sub 250K incomes.) They aren't worried about alienating the +250K crowd because they don't represent a large demographic, and taxing the rich is hugely popular.

The R's want to personalize this as well ("They're raising *your* taxes!!!"), to fire up their base, and to raise more money from those in the upper tax brackets who are feeling the brunt of it.

There are generally sound political reasons both sides choose to frame things the way they do, even if it obfuscates the real discussion. But that doesn't mean we have to follow their line: in this case, it's much easier to understand the issue if we ignore them, and discuss this in the terms the reader suggests. It's just good to keep in mind the reasons the conversation gets shaped the way it does.

Posted by: lukegmarshall | September 20, 2010 7:02 PM | Report abuse

Justice is done when man wakes up and smells the reality of the suffering of others. Until the uber wealthy republicans get this concept we will not have justice in our midst. Buy Blue and vote Blue too. Its time to bring health care, education and human rights to the forefront of humanity!

Posted by: craigbrenner | September 21, 2010 3:32 AM | Report abuse

The reader is very very right. To talk about " tax cuts 'for people making less than $250,000'" isn't just to personalize income, it is to make a plainly false claim.

Families which make over 250,000 a year will receive tax cuts under Obama's proposal. They will receive over $6,000 a year in tax cuts -- more than families which make 100,000 a year.

The issue under debate is tax cuts which will go only to the rich. Obama's proposal is to cut taxes for the rich and non-rich.

Posted by: rjw88 | September 21, 2010 8:45 AM | Report abuse

Note that the $250,000 only applies to married, filing jointly. For single people I believe it's $200,000.

Posted by: jnc4p | September 21, 2010 10:55 AM | Report abuse

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