A lot of phrases used in public policy debates are inaccurate and misleading. They often confuse and distort the issue at hand. Lately, I've noticed that a number of phrases are annoying me more and more, so I have decided to use this column to vent my spleen at them. Here goes:
We are a nation of immigrants. As anyone who even briefly saw the demonstrations earlier this year, this phrase is extremely popular among the Open-The-Border-Like-A-Fire-Hose crowd. Merriam Webster defines immigrant as "a person who comes to a country to take up permanent residence." In other words, an immigrant is born in one country and then comes to live in another. Since I and most of my fellow Americans were born here in the U.S., we aren't immigrants. Since most of us aren't immigrants, it follows that we can't be a nation of immigrants. One might reasonably respond that what the phrase is intended to convey is that we are a nation of people who are descended from immigrants. But why not say that instead? My guess is that it isn't as effective at obscuring the difference between those who reside here legally and those who don't.
Fragmented health care system. This phrase is a favorite of those who want more government-run health care. For example, Regina Owens of the liberal Washington Citizen Action complains that the U.S. puts "enough dollars into our fragmented health care system to cover everyone. But nearly one-third of our health care dollars go to administration, and billions more feed excessive prescription drug prices and 'boutique' clinics." But most systems in our society are fragmented (or, more accurately, "decentralized") in that they have a multitude of suppliers and millions of consumers. And almost all work very well in the sense of providing valuable products for a good price -- cars, computers, food, etc. Indeed, the problem isn't that our health care system is fragmented; rather it is too centralized. Over 42 million people are in Medicare, and about another 50 million are in Medicaid. Add to that the millions more who are in health insurance plans chosen not by themselves but by their employers, and the result isn't that our health care system is fragmented. It's that it is not fragmented enough.
The cost of tax cuts. The mainstream media and opponents of tax cuts (but I repeat myself) love to use this one whenever Republicans endeavor to reduce our taxes. One couldn't escape it when President Bush cut taxes in 2001 and 2003, and it reared its ugly head again recently when Congress tried to repeal the death tax. According to Bloomberg News, a compromise plan on the death tax "would cost $284 billion through 2016, or about 75 percent of the cost of full repeal." The crucial question that no one on the left ever answers is "a cost to whom?" The response would likely be "a cost to the government." But since it is taxpayers who fund the government, ultimately the phrase means that tax cuts are a cost to taxpayers. If that makes sense to you, then you must have failed Logic 101 in college. If the Bloomberg News had written logically, the article would have read, "the compromise would save taxpayers $284 billion through 2016." However, that wouldn't put those tax cuts in as quite a negative light, now would it?
Faith in the market. This phrase is often used in a disparaging fashion such as, "In the end, this libertarian faith in the market is the great failing of [Richard] Posner's essay." Merriam-Webster defines faith as a "firm belief in something for which there is no proof." You know, I had always thought that the vibrant economies of capitalist countries when compared to those of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc, not to mention the economic toilets that are modern-day Cuba and North Korea, were pretty strong proof that markets work. But what do I know? I guess that is why you seldom, if ever, hear the term "faith in government" to describe those folks on the left. After all, there must be ample evidence that government works quite well, right?
Well, that's enough complaining for now. I could probably come up with more phrases if I wanted, as could you. In fact, why don't you? If there is a phrase that annoys you, please tell me what it is and explain why it is inaccurate and misleading. Email it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll post the ones I like on the AmSpecBlog.