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  • Writer's pictureRobert Fry

My 2x4 words

There are certain words and phrases, usually used by politicians, that make me want to hit the speaker across the forehead with a 2x4 to knock some sense into them. Here are a few:

Working Families

We have child labor laws in this country. Outside of agriculture and family-owned businesses, there are no working families. "Working families" basically means "working-class" families, but politicians know that Americans generally don't like references to class distinctions. I don't like the suggestion that people at higher income levels aren't "working people."

Unearned Income

The term "unearned income" is used to refer to interest, dividends, and capital gains. If you think such income is unearned, you are more Marxist than Marx. When someone delays gratification by saving income rather than spending it on current consumption, then makes a conscious decision on where to invest those savings, the resulting income is not unearned; it is twice-earned. You could more easily argue that the labor income received by entertainers and athletes because of their natural beauty or inate athletic ability is "unearned."

Fair Share

When a politician wants to raise taxes, especially on twice-earned income, they say they just want high-income taxpayers to pay their "fair share." What they fail to mention is that such taxpayers already pay the lion's share of taxes. Contrary to what pandering politicians tell you, unless you're at least close to "upper-middle-class" status, you are probably receiving more in government benefits than you are paying in taxes. Are you paying your "fair share"?

A few years ago, the Reverend Al Sharpton told a 60 Minutes interviewer that the rich should pay more in taxes. The interviewer asked how much of their income the rich should pay in taxes. When the interviewer informed the Reverend Sharpton that his proposed tax burden was LOWER than what the rich pay now, he changed the subject faster than a cat jumping off a hot stove.

Death Tax

My first three 2x4 words are used primarily by politicians on the political left, but they by no means have a monopoly on pandering buzzwords that demand a smack across the forehead. Back in the 1990s, some Republican who thought he was clever decided to refer to the Estate Tax as the Death Tax. Estate Tax is an accurate term and a necessary term; it is needed to make clear the subtle distinction between an Estate Tax and an Inheritance Tax. You will not be taxed simply because you die (and unless you have a very large estate, it won't be taxed either). Those who use the term "Death Tax" aren't nearly as smart or clever as they think they are.


Whenever someone proposes a small tax on financial transations or taxing "carried interest" as ordinary income rather than as capital gains, a coalition of financial-sector executives, their political supporters (including a prominent Democratic Senator), and Republicans who oppose any and all tax increases complains that such a tax increase will reduce "liquidity" in the financial markets. Up to a point, liquidity is a good thing, but we should not make policy decisions based on the notion that you should be able to sell any amounts of a financial asset at any hour of the day or night without having any impact on the price of that asset.


When politicians propose comprehensive immigration reform that would allow some illegal immigrants to remain in the United States, they are accused of supporting "amnesty." I will stipulate that a quick and easy path to citizenship for illegal immigrants can rightly be called "amnesty." However, a long and arduous path to citizenship that includes paying a fine, paying taxes, and learning English -- or a path that ends in legal status but not citizenship -- can hardly be described as amnesty. Polls show that when voters, even Tea-Party members, are presented with the specifics of comprehensive immigration reform proposals, they overwhelmingly support them, but when they are asked about the package as a whole, they respond, "That's amnesty; I'm against it."

Politicians use these 2x4 words to rile up their supporters for two primary reasons: to raise campaign contributions and to increase the election turnout of their political base. When someone uses one of these words or phrases to elicit your support, you are being used. For legal and moral reasons, I do not really advocate hitting politician across their foreheads with 2x4s, but if you withhold your campaign contributions until they clean up their language, you will still get their attention, and you will help raise the level of political discourse in this country.

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