Which option would you prefer for tackling the budget deficit: tax increases or spending cuts?See what I did there? No? Let me pose the question in another way: Which green vegetable would you like for your dinner: broccoli or savoy cabbage?
See now? In the second instance, by affording you the autonomy to choose between two perhaps unpalatable options, I’m smuggling in the tacit proposition that you will have green vegetables for your dinner.
This is a simple trick, and one which parents with headstrong infants may find themselves resorting to with uncanny instinct.
Similarly, in the first question, there are quite a few tacit propositions smuggled in.
- The budget deficit must be tackled;
- Either spending cuts or tax increases are effective ways of tackling the budget deficit;
- Your preferred option is a product of a free, not a forced choice;
- There are no other ways of tackling the budget deficit apart from tax increases or spending cuts;
- The scope and material impact of either option, regardless of the areas of their application (regressive vs progressive taxation, spending cuts on bank bailouts vs spending cuts on hospital beds), are of no consequence. Rather, what is important is that one option be given preference over the other.
The answer to this form of question, as it turns out, is precisely what is adduced as justification for cuts to the health service, in this Irish Times op-ed:
Research by the ‘We the Citizens’ group suggests a majority of people are against significantly raising taxes in order to minimise the depth of health cuts. Most of those surveyed favour spending cuts as the best way of dealing with the massive deficit.
We The Citizens is proving a very handy instrument for executing what Pierre Bourdieu calls symbolic coups de force.