Taxidermy, or the Big Game of Freebies

I’m constantly struck by ways in which the privileged and the powerful manage to define the terms of discussion. Things like “welfare reform” and “compassionate conservatism.” Hard to be against those things, unless one knows something about what the nasty business they really involve.

Thus, I was intrigued by a recent essay from Martin Lobel, tax attorney extraordinaire and friend of WhoWhatWhy.  In this short but compelling piece, Lobel turns the traditional terminology related to taxes and spending on its head by describing giveaways to wealthy corporate interests, rather brilliantly, as unnecessary  “tax cut expenditures.”

If we are serious about cutting the deficit, we need to cut tax expenditures too.

Tax expenditures are government spending programs that deliver subsidies through tax exemptions, deductions, credits, exclusions, deferrals, preferential rates, and so on for selected beneficiaries, for example, the oil industry.1 Tax expenditures cost the government more than $1 trillion in fiscal 2011,2 which is almost as much as our projected deficit. If Congress eliminated all tax expenditures, it would cut corporate and individual income tax rates by greater than 20 percent and still generate 20 percent more revenue.3

Lobel goes on to note journalism’s role (or, more precisely, lack of) in this:

Despite the importance of tax expenditures, they are hidden, so there is little or no discussion of them in the mainstream media. Lobbyists and Congress use tax expenditures as an easy way to subsidize a favored few at the expense of the ordinary taxpayer. Once tax expenditures are enacted, they are not subject to annual appropriations analysis of whether they are justified, and there is no limit on the amount of the expenditure.4 Best of all from a public relations standpoint, when commentators question those tax expenditures, proponents of the expenditures scream that eliminating them amounts to a “bad” tax increase….

It will not be easy to cut tax expenditures because those who benefit from them will fight to keep them by calling the cuts tax increases, evoking a Pavlovian response from the public, who often don’t understand what the real implications are….

Well, that’s what we’re here for. WhoWhatWhy looks forward to taking on tax expenditures. Tell the public—then let it decide what it wants to do. That’s, that’s….that’s….democracy!


  • Russ Baker

    Russ Baker is Editor-in-Chief of WhoWhatWhy. He is an award-winning investigative journalist who specializes in exploring power dynamics behind major events.