Have you ever had someone say to you, “Oh, you’re just arguing semantics.”?
By asking the question they reveal that they don’t understand the importance of meaning in the use of language. They might as well say, “Oh, your just arguing meaning.” We have different words in our language because they have different meanings. Sometimes words have relatively small differences in meaning; other times they have significant differences.
I have thought of a few examples from the fields (here’s an example of a word that gets its meaning from context) of economics and politics:
- Inflation and Deflation: Popular lexicon uses these terms to mean increases and decreases, respectively, in the general price level. Precisely, these words refer to increases and decreases, respectively, in the supply of money.
- Liberal vs. Conservative: People throw these terms around as if they have a fixe meaning. The terms have changed meaning over time. Today, they refer to small distinction in political philosophy. They both believe in government intervention.
- Debt or Deficit: Debt amounts to an accumulation up to a point in time, and deficit consist of the negative rate at which taxes cover spending. Yet, people frequently use the terms interchangeably. Also, government deficits don’t have to lead to borrowing; they could sell a building (or a few).
- Pay for…: Politicians have a nasty habit of using the phrase “pay for” when referring to either spending or tax cuts. Now, I understand paying for spending (even though I would argue government pays for nothing—we do). But, I still can’t understand the concept of paying for letting people keep more of their own money.
- Middle Class: In a supposedly classless society, what does “middle class” mean?
With a little more thought I could probably come up with a lot more examples. I want to get to the critical importance of the generative nature of language. The language we use influences the thoughts of the people who hear or read what we say. And the person who controls the language also controls the conversation.
The people who believe in an interventionist government have developed a distinct advantage over those few of us who still believe in liberty (I may get to the meaning of this word later.), because they have taken control of the language we use. They have stolen the term “liberal;” they speak of “trickle-down” economic when in fact wealth “trickles” up; they speak of “social” safety nets when they refer to nets created by robbing society; and so forth.
As first step in taking back your liberty take back control of your language. Use words precisely. And insist that the interventions define precisely what they mean by the words they use.
A few helpful translations:
- Taxation = confiscation
- Government spending = redistribution
- Freedom = I do what I want to do; you do what I want you to do.
- Economic Stimulus = We take money from more productive people and give it to less productive people.
- Get the economy moving = Influence people to do more of the same things that got us into this mess.
What do your words mean?