Solidarity and taxes
The right is winning the communications battle while the left thinks it is a mere question of adding up who is better off
Every kind of solidarity is deserving of support. All its manifestations come in for general praise, and are considered OK by the government. Except one: taxes. Yet, in developed democratic societies it is supposed to be fiscal policy that plays the most decisive role when it comes to solidarity, in the sense of transference of resources.
The strange thing is not that the government, in the midst of the crisis, is talking about modifying this tax or the other, when an alteration seems technically advisable, or that it is moving toward the adaptation of certain aspects of income tax or corporate tax. This is always reasonable and often necessary. What is extravagant, however, is to encourage solidarity between citizens, using it as a motif of self-esteem and a moral reference for a society that is coping with a deep economic crisis and then, in the same breath, broadcast the message that "we have to cut taxes."
From this you might think that fiscal pressure in Spain was higher than the euro-zone average, and that it needs to be lowered. But this is not the case. According to Eurostat, fiscal pressure in neighboring countries in 2012 averaged 46.3 points, against 37.1 in Spain.
How can you defend something like this? Well, with conviction, the formidable conviction that when you talk to members of the public you must never offer them facts, but always ideological positions presented as moral options. According to the American professor George Lakoff, a specialist in political communication, this is what the right has a wonderful talent for, while the left believes that it is enough to add and subtract, and ask the public to vote in line with their interests. A big mistake, because experience shows that human beings are driven not by their bald interests alone, but are more often moved by moral arguments.
The conservatives don't follow the polls: they want to change them"
Lakoff, interviewed last month by The Guardian, is furious. He believes that the social democrats, or liberals as they are known in the United States, are just as responsible as the conservatives for the regression in social progress that we see around us. This is so because they have given up defending and arguing the superiority of their social values, such as the public against the private; fair payment for work, as against mini-jobs; public education and healthcare as rights to be financed by the community, against those who see them as just another sector of the world of business. True, the liberals have never ceased to decry the immorality of racism and homophobia, but they have begun to slack off in their defense of the rights of immigrants and exiles, as has been happening in France with the Gypsies, or as in those terrible buses that went around London with signs telling illegal immigrants to "go home."
"The center does not exist," roars Lakoff. The left yields ground in the moral debate, with the mistaken impression that everything will approximate to an idyllic center. But the more ground it yields, the more the conservatives impose their own vision of society.
One of Lakoff's classic examples is the analysis of how conservatives have imposed the concept of efficiency as an absolute value, and its derivative that there must not be barriers to the pursuit of profit. Another is the adroitness with which they have come to dominate discussion on taxes, with a simple expression: "tax relief." If this is a relief, then it has to be good. This is where our heads are at in Spain, too. Tax relief is forever on the lips of our own government. Even when they have raised taxes, they are filling our heads with the contrary idea.
One last warning. According to Lakoff, the progressives are too obsessed with what the opinion polls say. "The conservatives don't follow the polls: they want to change them." You win political space not when you try to stay in the center, but when you achieve acceptance of your own scheme of values, as if it was the product of common sense.