Politics

'We' Didn't Increase the Debt. Politicians, Congress, and Bureaucrats Did.

Using "we" implies a collective responsibility, creates the false impression that most people are on board, and hints that we'll share equally in the benefits.

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"The most dangerous pronoun discourse has nothing to do with gender identity. It's the undefined 'we' in public policy debates that's the problem." These are the words of Richard Morrison, a research fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Morrison identified "the fallacy of we," and I'm often guilty of committing it.

I frequently say things like, "If we increase spending on this or that, it will cause some economic distortions." Who exactly is this "we"? Certainly not me or most of you. Politicians propose and vote for additional spending, and the president signs new spending bills into law.

The problem also appears when I write things like "In 2021, we have increased the debt to $24 trillion." Yet, neither the borrowing nor the spending was done by you and me. It was done by some politicians in Congress, aided by the president, and with the assistance of some bureaucrats at the Department of the Treasury.

Just pick up a newspaper or listen to politicians, or even to people like me, and you'll soon realize that this "we" is everywhere: "We must protect our children by keeping the schools closed (or open)!"; "We need (or don't need) a national industrial policy!"; "We must invest in infrastructure (or something else)!"

This group is a phantom, easily invoked but sometimes impossible to identify. Is it individuals? Pundits? Experts? The federal government? All members of Congress, or just those in support? Does "we" include the president and his administration? How about the judiciary? Or do the leaders of a representative democracy get the honor of attributing their actions to every single one of us?

Take the idea that "we" must invest in infrastructure. Who decides exactly where to invest? With whose money? And who is getting the returns, if any, on that investment? Are these the same people who will lose their shirts if the investments fail? These are not trivial questions, because the rhetoric makes it almost impossible to tell that there are both winners and losers in any such transaction.

That's precisely the point of using "we." It implies a collective responsibility, creates the false impression that most people are on board, and hints that we'll share equally in the benefits. "We" is often used to obscure the truth and create the illusion of uniformity.

The same is true with many other words. In 1926, Columbia University political scientist Parker T. Moon wrote this in his book Imperialism and World Politics: "When one uses the simple monosyllable 'France,' one thinks of France as a unit, an entity…we impute not only unity but personality to the country. The very words conceal the facts and make international relations a glamorous drama in which personalized nations are the actors, and all too easily we forget the flesh-and-blood men and women who are the true actors."

Nowhere is this insight more revealing than when evaluating rhetoric about using import tariffs to protect "America" against "China." Countries don't really trade with one another. Flesh-and-blood persons trade, sometimes individually and sometimes when they join forces in business firms. To grasp this fact is to realize that Washington's import tariffs hurt Americans by preventing them from taking full advantage of good deals. Claiming that "we" must impose import taxes against "them" removes attention from the American consumers who end up losing out.

Such verbal deception is rampant throughout government policies. Take the Export-Import Bank, which describes itself as "the nation's official export credit agency…with a mission of supporting American jobs by facilitating the export of U.S. goods and services." This phrasing makes it sound as if it helps all Americans at no net cost. But in reality, EXIM backs around 2 percent of U.S. exports, putting the other 98 percent at a relative disadvantage. As for its support of American jobs, the economic literature shows that export subsidies help a few people while hurting more.

"Language often obscures truth. More than is ordinarily realized, our eyes are blinded to the facts…by tricks of the tongue," wrote Moon. Going forward, let's avoid the sloppy language.

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  1. The only thing we’ll share in are the inevitable austerity measures.

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  2. The only thing we have to fear is “we” itself.

    1. +100 Pogo

      1. Walt Kelly was a wise man.

  3. "We" must stop the steal, says the angry mob as they storm the Capital!

    1. If Louis the 16th had put up velvet ropes around Versailles he’d have escaped that haircut.

    2. Yeah, I remember 2017 too. Tragic what happened to that poor immigrant cabbie.

      1. Jan 20, 2017 was a far more destructive shitshow than J6, and yet everyone pretends it never happened.

        https://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/inauguration-2017/washington-faces-more-anti-trump-protests-after-day-rage-n709946

    3. We must end the totalitarian leftist threat.
      By any means necessary.

    4. Like the leftist mobs that tried to storm the White House to remove Trump, and the one that stormed the capitol during the Kavanaugh hearings. All ginned up by democrats.

  4. When Reason editors shilled for Biden, and he won, the inevitable avalanche of debt followed. It was “we” as in “you.”

    1. chemjeff wannabe statist will be around shortly to tell us why 'we' should think about spending more money, so long as the congress says it is so, and especially if it nukes the filibuster along the way. Quite the radical individualist he is.

      1. He got muted a few months ago. The chemjeff racial theorist (CRT) monicker was the funniest.

      2. Do you understand the difference between the following two sentences?

        "If the government spends more money, Congress should be the body to decide to spend it."
        "The government should totally decide to spend more money."

        They are not identical. Why are you trolling like this?

        1. Because you’re so frequently dishonest, move goalposts, sea lion, and engage in vexatious levels of sophistry. To name a few.

          Does that clarify the matter for,you, or would you like further edification?

  5. Well, 96.7% of the voters voted against fiscal restraint in 2016. And 51.3% voted to abandon fiscal restraint entirely in 2020. So "we" sort of did.

    1. You keep on using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

  6. When you know FULL well that the inevitable result of the person you support gaining power will end up massively increasing the debt and inflation over their opponent, yes, YOU do share responsibility. It may not be the lion's share, but it sure as fuck is there.

  7. How come the picture is too presidents and let's congress off Scott free?

    1. Perhaps Veronique never attended elementary and middle schools in the US. You know, where they teach us that the executive proposes, and Congress disposes. Maybe she missed that class.

      1. It is just amazing watching "learned" people not understand basic civics.

        1. That's LEARNed, Pepe. It's pronounced LEARNed.

          1. I just saw that one earlier this week. Nice.

      2. She had to get Trump in there.

      3. Those things really aren’t taught in government schools anymore. The irony of that is palpable.

    2. Because nobody at Reason has ever read the constitution and thinks POTUS controls spending.

  8. We voted for it. Every time.

    1. What if they had an election and nobody came?

      1. Nothing different

    2. Exactly. It certainly is a "we" considering the politicians didn't just appear out of nowhere and assume power.

      Face it- the general populace is dumb as shit.

      1. Not dumb, just ignorant, which is by the Democrat’s own design. Some of the DNC emails referenced the long term plan to eliminate civics to keep the bulk of the population ignorant and compliant.

    3. Did we? Often our politicians promise one thing but do something else when they get into office. That is hardly representation, as a matter of fact in the business world it would be considered a form of fraud often referred to as a "bait and switch". Did the majority of voters actually vote for never ending costly investigations that lead nowhere? Look at how this covid relief money is being spent, raises for teachers, tennis courts for schools. This is misappropriation of funds; did we really vote for that? When our "representatives" don't do what they say they are going to do, or do what they say they won't do; should we the people shoulder the responsibility? I don't believe we should, we were lied to.

  9. Every president that signs a EO creates himself as the “we”. Every time a member of congress votes for anything they are “WE”. 40-50% of the people who don’t vote are not “we”.
    The idiot public - by poll numbers - wants to cut spending and have the government provide more services. We are screwed.

  10. Free Stuff paid for by someone else is an overwhelmingly popular political platform. It always has been. Sometimes people get mad about Free Stuff that they, personally, don't want, but the absolutely no one is against Free Stuff for themselves and their resistance to Free Stuff for others goes down immensely when its paid for by a nebulous "other".

    1. Geez, why even bother with Democracy! if we can't vote for shit, and for general delusional realities?

  11. Well, "I" didn't increase the debt. I didn't vote for any politician that has ever voted to raise the debt ceiling or increase public spending. "YOU" on the other hand have personally and collectively as an organization supported politicians who not only voted in ways that increased the debt, but openly bragged about their enthusiastic willingness to do so, the most recent being Joe Biden. So "YOU" can go fuck yourself.

    1. ^This

  12. I remember reading something that starts "We the people...." I just can't put my finger on it.

    1. You mean that 'something' that over half the population couldn't care less about anymore; and most definitely leftard politicians?

      Yea; You might of just nailed the problem right on top of the head.

    2. Hey now, those words are only for Chiefs, and sons of Chiefs.

  13. As always, the conflict is between me and we. As long as we does not overwhelm me, then we can get along.

    When we presumes ultimate priority, with no tolerance for me, then we might be done.

    One more obvious point: collectivists by definition are all about "we".

  14. The so-called “national debt” refers to the total of dollars CURRENTLY DEPOSITED from non-federal sources into T-security (T-bills, T-notes, T-bonds) accounts.

    They are not debts of the federal govt, which neither needs, uses, nor even touches the dollars in those accounts, except to return them upon maturity. Unlike real debts, the “national debt” is not a financial burden on the federal govt or on taxpayers.

    The sole purposes of the “national debt” are to provide a safe parking place for unused dollars (thus helping to stabilize the dollar), and to help the Federal Reserve control interest rates (by setting a base rate).

    For REASON, all government spending is bad, and there is no acceptable level.

    REASON, demonstrates its ignorance about federal financing, by implying that if the federal govt spends dollars on interest it doesn’t have enough dollars to spend on benefits or services (which REASON hates, anyway).

    The federal govt pays for all its spending, promptly.
    The federal govt cannot unintentionally run short of dollars. This so-called “national debt" is now about $25 trillion. The U.S. govt does not owe anyone $25 trillion.

    The federal govt could pay off the $25 trillion in T-securities today simply by returning the $25 trillion dollars already deposited into T-security accounts. No tax dollars would be involved. No taxpayers would be burdened-EVER.

    All inflations are scarcity-based. None are spending-based. Increased deficit spending to cure shortages would end the inflation.

    The federal govt has been spending massively for many years, without the long-feared inflation.

    1. There is so much wrong here I can't even.

      Based on your view - what have a level of debt? Why not just go to $100 trillion.

      Have you looked at the Federal Budget. There is a little line in there called debt payment of interest.

      "All inflations are scarcity-based" - inflation is the devaluing of the dollar. Meaning you get less for what you would have spent in the past. Resources cost more. It can be caused by labor, or taxes, etc.

    2. All inflations are scarcity-based. None are spending-based. Increased deficit spending to cure shortages would end the inflation.

      How in the world do you think that government spending reduces shortages? How is that possibly supposed to work?

      In fact, it is government spending that creates the scarcity in the first place. That is, when the government prints money and spends it on its pet projects, the productive capacity that would otherwise have been allocated to meet the needs of people gets spent on things that the people are unwilling to pay for voluntarily.

      For example, spending $100 billion on high speed rail removes $100 billion in terms of wood, concrete, steel, and construction labor from the market that would otherwise have gone towards building homes, shopping malls, and cars.

      So, yes, price inflation is the result of increasing scarcity, and government spending is the major cause of increasing scarcity.

  15. "We" is shorthand for "the government". It's a constant reminder that the government is elected by the people. Which it is, for better or worse.

  16. We will all suffer the pain of austerity when the bill has to paid.

  17. "This group is a phantom, easily invoked but sometimes impossible to identify. Is it individuals? Pundits? Experts? The federal government?"

    Its a Straw Man.

    The point isnt that they care about " we" but want total control over "We"....

    " the People" they should answer to.

  18. You go, De Rugy! Bastardizing the language is a way of obscuring what is really going on. This abuse of "we" is right up there with the use of passive voice.

    "Lest we forget, it is language that separates the human beings from the bureaucrats." "Fowl Language: The fine art of the new doublespeak" by Richard Lederer, AARP Bulletin, Vol. 46 No. 3, page 47.

  19. Tragic what happened to that poor immigrant cabbie

  20. Sorry Reason, if you keep voting for the people who you know are already increasing the debt, and tell you they will increase the debt again, you are the one increasing the debt.
    There are alternatives to the two party system driving the nation to bankruptcy. Ross Perot was an example. If you vote Democrat/Republican YOU are helping increasing the debt.
    Democrats never worry about overspending.
    Republicans only worry about government overspending when Democrats are in power.
    So, don't absolve yourself so fast.

    1. Ross Perot was all in favor of sending Assassins of Youth to rob, jail and murder individuals over plant leaves alleged by televangelists to be avatars of Satan. Prohibitionist coercion and economic planning is an even greater Destroyer of the economy than communist-style socialism. Prohibition caused the Panic of 1907, WW1, crashes in 1920, 1928 and 1929, 1972, 1987, 2000, 2008 and both Flash Crashes.

  21. When used as an abstract, fogbound, impersonal pronoun, "we" invariably refers to altruist collectivism.

  22. Using "we" implies a collective responsibility, creates the false impression that most people are on board, and hints that we'll share equally in the benefits.

    The vast majority of US voters don't want government debt, but they do want massive government spending and low taxes for themselves. And politicians comply. Yes, there is very much a "collective responsibility".

    Nowhere is this insight more revealing than when evaluating rhetoric about using import tariffs to protect "America" against "China." Countries don't really trade with one another. Flesh-and-blood persons trade, sometimes individually and sometimes when they join forces in business firms.

    That kind of analysis works when talking about individuals living in two free market economies with libertarian laws. China is a communist dictatorship with a government-run economy and a large army of slave labor. And even half of the US economy is government run. The idea that trade between China and the US is free trade between "flesh-and-blood persons" is so ludicrous that it takes a reputable academic to state such an obvious falsehood.

    To grasp this fact is to realize that Washington's import tariffs hurt Americans by preventing them from taking full advantage of good deals.

    Exhibit 1. This is why the US is going bankrupt: "I want cheap Chinese crap in the stores. I don't want any kind of consumption taxes. Finance the government through taxes on other people."

  23. The basis of this article is extremely flawed logic as the writer tries to separate themselves from responsibility of government spending. As citizen your part of the "collective" United States whether you like it or not...therefore even if you don't personally agree with the actions of your representatives as a whole doesn't mean you get to completely wash your hands of everything and walk away from it. Taking responsibility and seeking a fix is "our" problem whether "we" as individuals were a direct supporter of creating it. A democratic nation exists as a collective of its citizens and until people realize that they are in it for better or worse, nation will continue to suffer as a whole.

  24. We continue to enable the govt by reflecting 98% of them, so yeah, we did it

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