Liberty Language: Instead of “Sales Tax”

Sharon Harris Comments

(From the One-Minute Liberty Tip section in Volume 20, No. 10 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

As Mark Twain famously observed, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is Lightning Wordsreally a large matter — ’tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning.”

The political words and labels we use are vitally important. I’m always looking for new, more effective political wording — political “lightning words” that will open minds and stimulate thinking.

Here are a couple more excellent mind-opening word suggestions from economist Mark Perry, who writes the excellent blog Carpe Diem. (We looked at his thoughts on alternative wording for the minimum wage in my previous column.)

These suggestions concern the sales tax.

Most of us think of the sales tax as spare change, or a nuisance, most of the time — a few pennies or dollars per purchase, and the occasional more painful amount on big-ticket purchases. Yet the total amount Americans pay over the course of a year in sales taxes can be a significant percentage of their income. In California, for example, state and local sales taxes can hit a whopping 10%. And sales taxes on the necessities of life — food, clothing, transportation, etc. — can hit the poor and struggling especially hard.

The way the sales tax is collected, in daily small amounts, muddies and hides the impact of this tax and who pays it. So does the innocuous name “sales tax.”

Perry suggests two alternate terms to make people think. He suggests it’s more accurate to call the sales tax “the consumer tax” or “the buyers’ tax” so that “the ultimate payer of the tax is recognized.”

I like both of these, and I’m especially fond of “buyers’ tax.”

And here’s one of my own: “customer tax.”

Try them out. You may find they open minds and lead to fruitful discussions.

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