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Long-stalled Land Tax Bill Back in Discussion
framing values thailand caring morality land tax

How to Talk to Win Over a Majority

How do you get people to vote for you, against themselves, and for an unheralded social reform that really works? We trim, blend, and append three 2012 articles from: (1) Huffington Post, Jun 12 and (2) Common Dreams, Jun 14, on framing, both by G. Lakoff and E. Wehling; and (3) Bangkok Post, Jun 1, on a land tax.

by George Lakoff & Elisabeth Wehling and by the Bangkok Post

As a candidate, Governor Scott Walker was just carrying out general conservative moral policies, taking the next step along a well-worn path.

Where progressives argued policy -- the right to collective bargaining and the importance of public education -- conservatives argued morality from their perspective, and many working people who shared their moral views voted with them and against their own interests. Why? Because morality is central to identity, and hence trumps policy.

Progressive morality fits a nurturant family: parents are equal, the values are empathy, responsibility for oneself and others, and cooperation. That is taught to children. Parents protect and empower their children, and listen to them. Authority comes through an ethic of excellence and living by what you say, rather than by enforcing rules.

Conservative morality fits the family of the strict father, who is the ultimate authority, defines right and wrong, and rules through punishment. Self-discipline to follow rules and avoid punishment makes one moral, which makes it a matter of individual responsibility alone. You are responsible for yourself and not anyone else, and no one else is responsible for you.

What progressives need to do is clear. To people who have mixed values -- partly progressive, partly conservative -- talk progressive values in progressive language, thus strengthening progressive moral views in their brains. Never move to the right thinking you'll get more cooperation that way.

At issue is the future of progressive morality, democracy, freedom, and every aspect of the Public -- and hence the viability of private life and private enterprise in America on a mass scale. The conservative goal is to impose rule by conservative morality on the entire country, and beyond. Eliminating unions and public education are just steps along the way.

In taking over the framing of just about every major issue, conservatives have hidden major truths. Democrats need to speak those truths from their own moral perspective. Start telling deep truths out loud all day every day: Democracy is about citizens caring about each other. To show how, we have just published The Little Blue Book: The Essential Guide for Thinking and Talking Democratic.

To read more

Paul Krugman goes beyond economic analysis to bring up the morality and the conceptual framing that determines economic policy. He speaks of “the people the economy is supposed to serve” -- “the unemployed,” and “workers.”

Markets are moral, according to someone’s sense of morality. The question is, Whose morality? In contemporary America, it is conservative versus progressive morality that governs forms of economic policy.

Conservatives see democracy as providing liberty, the freedom to seek one’s self interest with minimal responsibility for the interests or well-being of others. The most moral people are the rich. Those who are needy are assumed to be weak and undisciplined and therefore morally lacking, and so should be punished.

When Krugman speaks of those who have “the mentality that sees economic pain as somehow redeeming,” he is speaking of those who have ordinary conservative morality, the more than forty percent who voted for John McCain and who now support Mitt Romney -- and Angela Merkel’s call for “austerity” in Germany. It is conservative moral thought that gives the word “austerity” a positive moral connotation.

Historically, American democracy is premised on the moral principle that citizens care about each other and that a robust Public is the way to act on that care. Who is the market economy for? All of us. Equally. But with the sway of conservative morality, we are moving toward a 1 percent economy -- for the bankers, the wealthy investors, [the successful rent-seekers,] and the super rich like the six members of the family that owns Walmart and has accumulated more wealth than the bottom 30 percent of Americans. Six people!

What is wrong with a 1 percent economy? It eliminates opportunity for over a hundred million Americans. From the Land of Opportunity, we are in danger of becoming the Land of Opportunism.

If there is hope in our present situation, it lies with people who are morally complex, who are progressive on some issues and conservative on others -- often called “moderates,” “independents,” and “swing voters.” They have both moral systems in their brains: when one is turned on, the other is turned off. The one that is turned on more often gets strongest. Quoting conservative language, even to argue against it, just strengthens conservatism in the brain of people who are morally complex. It is vital that they hear the progressive values of the traditional American moral system, the truth that our freedom depends on a robust Public, and that the economy is for all of us.

To read more

JJS: Thousands of years ago, Confucius said, “He who defines the terms wins the argument.” So the notion of framing has been around for a long time, but it has never mattered much to people who like to argue -- which is most political people. It’s only people who prefer to win who forgo unconscious language and seek words that resonate with the listener and that put ideas into a proper context.

While the authors are right about the power of language, they may be wrong about particular issues, since both are professors, enjoying tenure, comfortably ensconced in academia, never needing to produce value for discriminating consumers (when no learning occurs, professors fail students, not the other way around), salaries guaranteed by people’s fear of reprisal for not paying taxes.

Not to pick on professors (members of the middle class, happily housed in college towns). It’s hard for all of us to think beyond our biases. One huge blind spot for everyone is the power of land and land speculation. Yet in some societies, people do make progress toward the public recovery of the socially-generated values of land -- though perhaps proper framing could make the progress go further faster.

The Finance Ministry is vowing to push forward the land tax bill, stalled for a decade, and may increase the tax ceiling, says the Fiscal Policy Office (FPO).

Director-general Somchai Sujjapongse said the FPO is now amending details of the draft. Once the amendment version is completed, it will arrange a public hearing.

Landlords with undeveloped land plots would be subject to tax rates that double every three years, up to a maximum charge of 2% of the land price per year, a fee aimed at encouraging greater efficiency in land use.

It plans to amend the land tax exemption for low-income earners, which shields most of the poor from significant tax burdens.

Because land prices in large cities far exceed those in rural areas, it will amend the draft land tax bill to allow tax exemption for houses with total value of less than 1 million baht regardless of the size.

To read more

JJS: If society is to tax, better than taxing just vacant land is to tax all land at whatever value it’d have if it were vacant. Not only would that make it possible to eliminate the counterproductive taxes on buildings, businesses, and wages, it’d also raise enough money to pay residents a dividend. So policymakers could forget about exemptions and concentrate on making sure land is used sustainably.


Editor Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics and helped prepare a course for the UN on geonomics. To take the “Land Rights” course, click here .

Also see:

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