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What Are the Psychological Effects of Tax

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Since the 13th century, when the first taxes were introduced, we’ve all loved paying taxes; we wake up every morning, leaping out of bed with: ‘How I love paying taxes’ as our inspirational mantra. 

Each of us has total faith that governments of any principle, and none, always have spent and will spend our hard-earned taxes with the most serene wisdom imaginable. 

Who could possibly accuse noble governments of wasting our money, ever? Unthinkable: how ridiculous! No, paragogic ministers save billions of our currency each year by circumventing troublesome procurement procedures and giving contracts to their highly trusted friends. Of course, when any allegations are made of ministerial wrongdoing, they would never even dream of burdening taxpayers by authorising an investigation into themselves. Given that taxpayers are already overstretched it is only reasonable to spare them the extra costs of discovering the truth. 

While we love to be forced to pay taxes to help those who are helping themselves at our expense, most of us hate giving our money to help others in genuine need. Who of right mind would offer hard-earned money to actually help someone? 

Juxtaposing our emotional reality, (never knowingly described as irony), may illustrate a powerful principle: we hate paying taxes, but love helping people. 

Seizure and subsequent squandering of more than half our yearly earnings, is, of course, the right way to make people feel emotionally positive about paying taxes. It makes us better appreciate reaching a ‘tax-free day’, (approximately the 31st of May in the UK), after which time everything earned in that year is ours to keep. People should be grateful that full slavery was abolished in 1833; now they are only forced to work for half a year for no pay. Surely they know that semi-freedom tastes much better than no freedom.

Paying tax, as with all coercion, leaves us in an emotional deficit, but it need not; we could turn that affective loss into feel-good gain. How? It’s the name: cut our losses on the use of negatively perceived ‘tax’, and start making gains on positively viewed social contribution. We feel good about giving, we feel bad about seizures.  By emphasising the social contribution made by our payments going into the collective pot, we might even get a little high.

Tax is a taxing word. Social contribution does what is said on the tin and gives us a sense of well–making a social contribution. 

‘Oh, you’re just playing with words,’ yelps Mr I-Have-No-Knowledge-of-Human-Nature, with unintended irony from behind his pompous septi-barrelled name. Of course, we are playing with words; that is, believe it or not, how we communicate.

Words shape our world, and we use them to shape how others see their world. To wit: while I’m persistent, you are stubborn; I’m a self-made woman (only on Friday nights at Trannie D’s), you are a LIBOR-fixing, PPI mis-selling, sub-prime mortgage conning, country bankrupting bankster; I used to be a demi-slave paying taxes; now I make a worthwhile social contribution. 

Of course, this concept of naming an act to help people see what it is intended to achieve is entirely new and radical. At no point in history has it ever been thought of, let alone used successfully. No, David Lloyd George, in 1908, when he proposed ‘National Insurance’ was (?) completely clueless about the notion. Really, why would anyone ever want to name something so that people would know what it was used for? The idea of making people feel good, about the common good, will never catch on!

Taxes need not be taxing. Indeed, making it more of pleasure can be as simple as the addition of one plus one. Bill Clinton’s campaign slogan: ‘It’s the economy stupid,’ plus, Lee Atwater’s observation, ‘Reality is perception,’ equals, people, feeling good about making social contributions: it’s in the name.  

If there is an uncommon outbreak of common sense we might decide to remove that taxing word tax from our soundscape! Alas, in all probability, the wax in the ears of those who tax us for years, is too thick.

Professor Nigel MacLennan runs the performance coaching practice PsyPerform.


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