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Lazy editors lend credence to Fraser stunt
There it was again for another year: yet more media coverage of what the Fraser Institute calls “Tax Freedom Day.”

This time it was a front-page story in the Vancouver Sun, originating from a Southam reporter in Ottawa, dutifully elaborating on the concept just as the Fraser Institute serves it up.

Too bad. “Tax Freedom Day” is a good gimmick for ideological tax-cut lobbyists like the Institute, but journalistically it is questionable

Such uncritical coverage, for what is a propaganda stunt, has long bothered me. Of course, the gimmick isn’t meant to be taken literally. It’s meant symbolically. The problem with its use in supposedly objective reporting is that the symbolism is so ideologically loaded. It assumes that all taxes are bad and that we need to be free of them, although taxes provide valuable goods and services for which there is great demand. “Tax Freedom Day” makes no more sense than “Market-Exchange Freedom Day,” by which we would total up how many working days in a year it takes to pay for presumed extortionate brand-name goods, rigged oil cartel prices, rent-gouging by landlords (or interest-gouging on our mortgages by banks), billing tricks by devious trades people, and outrageous CEO compensation, after which we could finally turn to valuable public services.

Modern taxes, moreover, it should be remembered, are another form of exchange, or rather a combination of two forms - reciprocity and redistribution - which are more primary in societies than market exchange.

If the goods and strengthened relationships which are the products of such exchange were mentioned specifically, we would be reminded of that. Then, instead of “Tax Freedom Day,” we would have “Law and Order Freedom Day,” “Health Care Freedom Day,” “Schools Freedom Day,” “Roads, Sidewalks and Sewers Freedom Day,” “Parks Freedom Day,” “Library Freedom Day,” “Community Centre Freedom Day,” “Cohesive and Equitable Society Freedom Day,” “Democratic Governance Freedom Day,” and so on, through a long list. Who would want to celebrate those days? Goodbye gimmick.

Yet many editors, like the ones at the Sun, have swallowed the gimmick whole, passing it on in the same way they pass on news about the weather. They lend to reporting of events, in this way, a profound ideological bias. They might not be aware of the bias, or admit it if they were, but that’s how bias of this kind often works: editors are captive to ideological assumptions without knowing it, and bring those implicit assumptions to bear on the judgements they make.

Imagine a test for it. Say that I issued a news release on “Market-Exchange Freedom Day.” I could make a much better case for it than the Fraser Institute can for its version. What, after all, is the point of being able to make cars and refrigerators more efficiently, if not to be metaphorically free of that work at an earlier date, and have more people and resources for, say, health care or environmental reconstruction, or anything in a long list of needs that we look after collectively?

Would my news release have become the subject of an effusive Southam article and have automatically been put at the top of the Sun’s front page?

Mind you, the one gimmick wouldn’t be any more legitimate than the other, except to wake up editors and journalists. Too bad they don’t recognize just how ideologically captive they are.
Copyright © Herschel Hardin 2005
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