The Art of Plucking the Tax Goose
At some point during his government’s tenure, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will likely be forced to pluck lots of goose feathers.
Now before anybody makes a frantic call to PETA, let me quickly say any geese Trudeau plucks will be totally metaphorical.
I’m simply alluding to Jean Baptiste Colbert’s famous quote: “The art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose as to obtain the largest possible amount of feathers with the smallest possible amount of hissing.”
Colbert, who was Finance Minister for France’s King Louis XIV, made that comment about four hundred years ago but it still applies today.
The fact is people have always had contradictory desires when it comes to government and taxes. On the one hand, they want government to provide better and more services, but on the other, they generally resist paying for those services with higher taxes.
Consequently, any government that raises taxes will have to deal with lots of voter hissing. And hissing voters tend to kick politicians out of office.
This is something Trudeau needs to understand because his current fiscal strategy of spend, spend, spend, deficit, deficit, deficit, will sooner or later lead to tax, tax, tax.
So how can Trudeau follow Colbert’s advice and artfully pluck those goose feathers?
Well, fortunately for him the Cynical Politicians Political Playbook contains lots of tried and true tricks which, if implemented properly, allow a government to raise taxes without the running the risk of setting off a serious rebellion.
Indeed, Trudeau already used one such trick during the last election campaign when he promised something along the lines of, “Don’t worry, to pay for all those costly government services I’ve promised, I’ll just raises taxes on the wealthy.”
That’s a classic “Tribalism” tactic which is based on the premise that people are usually willing to accept higher taxes so long as they are being paid by “somebody else.”
A variation of this ploy is for a government to impose new taxes on “somebody else” who also happens to be unpopular, such as big, faceless, soulless corporations.
Another nifty trick for selling taxes to the public is to play the “Word Game”.
For instance, instead of uttering something scary-sounding like, “Our government’s goal is to hammer you with massive tax hikes,” a politician can convey the same message much more softly, i.e. “We’re working to actively enhance government revenues.”
And instead of using the word “taxes”, politicians will talk about “user fees” or “surcharges” or “closing loopholes.”
Then there’s the “Taxes Are Our Friend,” technique, a trick whereby governments try to convince citizens that a new or higher tax is needed for the common good.
Politicians will raise taxes on cigarettes arguing it will make the population healthier; or they will impose a tax on carbon purportedly to save the environment; or they will raise tariffs supposedly to protect our economy.
How can anybody possibly oppose taxes which, at least in theory, make society better?
And yes, all these tricks really work. As proof, just consider how politicians have successfully used them over the past decades to steadily increase the tax burden on Canadians.
In fact, according to the Fraser Institute, an economic think tank, the total tax bill the average Canadian family pays has increased since 1961 by a whopping 1,886 per cent.
Clearly politicians must know how to extract taxes … oops I mean they must know how to efficiently enhance revenues.
So, the way things are going now in terms of fiscal policy, taxpayers should be prepared; Canada could soon be deluged with flocks of naked geese (metaphorically speaking).
This article originally appeared in the Ottawa Hill Times.