It’s not “Taxpayers’ money”, it’s “public money”

Nearly every political interview in this country seems to bring up Government use of “taxpayers’ money”. Personally, I deeply resent and regret this trend – I think it breeds a NIBMY, us-and-them approach to politics. But political opinions aside, it is an intrinsically political term and so is not a suitable expression for any impartial interviewer.

I don’t want to slam the Taypayers’ Alliance (which taxpayers?), much as I can’t help feeling their rent-a-quote ubiquity is possibly to the dentriment of sensible debate on the role of Government. I just want to be clear: it’s not “taypayers’ money”, it’s public money.

What’s the difference? “Taxpayers’ money” implies it should be in the hands of the individual: the taxpayer. It doesn’t take into account that there’s a valid and influential political belief that money should be redistributed to ensure an equal society. “Taxpayers’ money” is a conservative term, it argues for the individual against the state. Use it if you believe that – but interviewers shouldn’t try to persuade us of the validity of their beliefs; they provide an independent, equal platform for others to present theirs. Loaded terms don’t help anyone.

Public money on the other hand doesn’t discuss the source of the money – how it got there, it only describes its use. “Public money” means that, for better or worse, money has been taken from somewhere and is now ready to be spent. It doesn’t even imply it should be spent, perhaps it might be given back to the public (made up of individuals but without highlighting that). It does mean however, that if the money is to be spent, it should be for a good reason. I’ve no problem with an interviewer saying that.


3 Responses to “It’s not “Taxpayers’ money”, it’s “public money””

  1. Tom Mann Says:

    Interesting. Good point. Of course not all public money comes from taxpaying UK resident individuals either.

  2. niall Says:

    A very interesting and thought-provoking post. But isn’t the term “public money” in fact broader than simply the cash we all give to government through our taxes? When govt has a surplus, isn’t that public money? Anything earned through govt investment, that too is public money, as are the proceeds of asset sales and govt bonds. Premium bonds? And, god forbid, bail-out money from the IMF?

    I do take your point about the loaded nature of the term (and also the ubiquity of the Taxpayers’ Alliance… They can cock off), but isn’t that to be expected? After all, generally when politicians and journalists use it they’re TRYING to make the connection between taxation and govt spending; and why shouldn’t the public feel aggrieved when the money is misspent? I’d argue there is an expectation that the revenue raised by any govt should be used wisely. Isn’t that the quid pro quo of taxation?

    Another good post, though.

  3. Joshua Chambers Says:

    Thanks all for commenting!


    Are people annoyed when public money is misspent because it could have been their taxes, or are they annoyed because it should have been spent on schools and hospitals and roads? Linking spending abuses to taxation assumes that only the former applies.

    Wise spending is the essence of good governance, not just taxation: regardless of where money comes from it should be spent wisely. Even if government funds include earnings from bonds, asset sales or bail-out money, citizens (be they taxpayers or benefit claimants) will be justifiably irritated if it is frittered away or abused.

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