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

The most harmful pronouns have nothing to do gender identity. The problem is the unclear ‘we’ that are used in public policy discussions. These were the words Richard Morrison (a Competitive Enterprise Institute researcher). Morrison identified the “fallacy of we” and it is something I often fall prey to.

I say often, “If spending increases on this or another, it will lead to some economic distortions.” What exactly are these “we”? I’m not the only one. The president approves new spending legislation that is proposed and voted for by politicians.

This problem is also apparent when I write “In 2021 we have increased our debt to $24 trillion.” But neither you nor I did the borrowing or the spending. This was accomplished by members of Congress with the help of the president and bureaucrats from the Department of the Treasury.

You can pick up any newspaper and listen to politicians or people like me to quickly realize this “we” exists everywhere. “We must protect children by keeping schools open (or closed)!””; “We need (or don’t need) a national industrial policy!”; “We need to invest in infrastructure or something else!”

This phantom is easy to invoke, yet sometimes hard to recognize. Are they individuals? Pundits? Experts? Federal government The federal government? Do you include the president’s administration in “we?” What about the judiciary. Are the representatives of democracy allowed to attribute their actions and leadership to each individual?

Let’s say that we must all invest in infrastructure. Who determines which investments to make? Whose money is it? Who is receiving the return on this investment, if any? If the investments fall, will these be the same people who lose their shirt? Because of the way these transactions are conducted, it is almost impossible to determine if there are winners or losers.

It’s exactly why we use “we”. This implies that there is a shared responsibility and that everyone will share in the rewards. It is used frequently to conceal the truth and give the impression of uniformity.

This is also true for many other words. Parker T. Moon (Columbia University Political Scientist) wrote these words in his 1926 book Imperialism, 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. They hide facts, making international relations glamorous dramas in which individual nations act as the characters. It is easy to forget that the actual actors are flesh-and-blood people and women.

This insight is more important than when we look at rhetoric regarding import tariffs being used to defend “America” from “China.” It is not true that nations trade with one another. People of flesh and blood trade with each other, both individually or when they combine forces to form business companies. This is because Washington’s imposition of import tariffs prevents Americans from taking advantage of great deals. The claim that “we” should impose import tax against “them”, distracts from American consumers, who ultimately lose out.

This type of verbal deception can be found 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.” The phrase makes it seem like it is free to all Americans. EXIM only supports around 2 percent U.S. Exports. This puts the remaining 98% in relative disadvantage. Export subsidies are a good thing for American workers, but they can also hurt more people.

The truth is often hidden behind language. More than is ordinarily realized, our eyes are blinded to the facts…by tricks of the tongue,” wrote Moon. Moving forward, we must avoid sloppy speech.