Cold Logic vs Mass Hysteria: An Exploration of Persuasive Tactics in the Tax Reform Debate

Cold Logic vs Mass Hysteria: An Exploration of Persuasive Tactics in the Tax Reform Debate

In recent months, the Canadian government has made a tax plan. And it’s… well, let’s just say that it’s not the most popular piece of legislation to cross the desk of small-to-mid-sized business owners.

Naturally, there’s been a backlash. Most of the literature you can find on the matter has at least a soupcon of vitriol, and even those attempting to be impartial are obligated to mention the fervor with which the business owners disagree with the plan.

The backlash makes this a perfect opportunity to look at something very common in copywriting–and all business writing for that matter, particularly when pushing an agenda: Should you dump emotion into your persuasive arguments, or should you keep level-headed and let the facts speak for themselves?

What’s the best path to persuasion?

A Bit of Background on the Tax Situation

Just to give you a little context to the argument itself, Finance Minister Bill Morneau released a tax plan intended to close some tax loopholes used by the wealthy. And, in some facets of the plan, his plan would do this, curbing practices such as income sprinkling that helps the wealthy claim a chunk of their income at a lower tax bracket.

However, it’s not all good. There is a flaw that’s got a lot of people up-in-arms, and it reads almost like a mathematical error when you consider it objectively. Under the old plan, money re-invested on behalf of your business wasn’t taxed. If your business bought shares in a company, the money you were investing was considered part of the company, and so the investment, and any dividends paid, would be considered part of the company, and wouldn’t need to be taxed at the (considerably higher) personal rate until that money was removed from the company, either through payout or sale.

Under the proposed plan (as of the time the arguments in question were written), any ‘lateral investments’ are taxed as though they left the company. And any dividends paid out are taxed again. And if that money leaves the company, it’s taxed again. All in all, if a business invests in another company, they end up being ‘machine-gunned’ at an effective 71% tax rate, all things considered.

 

The Backlash

As a result of that figure, a lot of people have been posting their objections in a lot of different ways. The two we’re going to look at are Lorrie Goldstein’s level-headed article written for the Toronto Sun, and Armando Iannuzzi’s slightly more passionate article written for the Financial Post.

You can follow the links to read the full articles if you wish, but the short-and-quick of it is that the Sun article tries to look at it objectively, and the Post article calls for torches and pitchforks.

Time to drop some knowledgeArgumentation 101

According to basic argumentation rules, logic is the purest form of debate. There are a number of logical fallacies, and just about every single one of them has to do with appealing to the irrational, emotional mind.

That being said, most of us are more likely to be moved by a speech than by an equation. So what’s the best road to persuasion? Well, it really depends…

Advantages of Logic

When it comes to argumentation, logic is the most refined method of persuasion. After all, logic is ironclad—the only way to refute it is to either disprove the argument through opposing logic backed by evidence, or to completely and baselessly dismiss the fundamental laws of reality.

The basic language of logic is universal, and fairly rudimentary. Therein lies both its strength and its weakness: With logic, it is easy to ‘reach across the aisle’ and either convince them of your argument or engage them in meaningful discussion that may very well change both of your viewpoints to become more informed and enlightened.

However…

Logic is basic and fairly straightforward. On its own, it doesn’t always spell out its own consequences, and therefore tends to be much less grandiose than arguments built upon passion. At face value, they tend to be very inert, and don’t really prompt the reader to action.

In fact, just take a look at the language of the ‘logic’ article: “Morneau’s tax changes provoke a firestorm” is a very impartial statement that is itself removed from the conflict. The changes are under fire, but we aren’t told which side we should be on. The article contains the arguments against the tax changes, but does not weigh in with its own opinion, going so far as to say “It should make for an interesting battle” towards the end.

Advantages of Passion

In terms of objective debate, arguments that lean towards passion tend to be frowned upon. After all, a passionate stance is unshakable. It stands its ground regardless of contradicting evidence, and lends itself to a number of logical fallacies, like building up easy targets or leaning on slippery slopes. Passion arguments do, however, have the advantage of being able to utilize abstract and undefined concepts, such as love and freedom, which can be turned into offensive tools, such as fear and distrust.

Passion-based arguments are most often ‘preaching to the converted’, appealing only to those who already agree with your premise. In fact, due to the inflammatory nature of pure passion-based arguments, they tend to be more likely to entrench opposing viewpoints rather than convert them.

However…

Arguments based solely in passion aren’t meant to convince anyone of anything. They’re more often a call-to-arms, rallying those who agree under a banner of action. And, in this respect, it’s considerably more effective than logic alone—seeing the words “73% tax rate” could make you arch an eyebrow and mutter about how that seems kind of high, but learning that the impact on small-to-mid-sized businesses will (according to some analysts) cripple economic growth, bankrupt businesses, and have a massive long-term negative impact on our national economy will make you call your Member of Parliament and tell them where to stick their new tax plan.

Consider the title of the Financial Post article. “These two proposed changes to SMB taxation are particularly galling” is an extremely weighted statement. The readers are literally being told to be disgusted at the get-go. And, if there’s any doubt as to the opinion you’re meant to have following this article, the next line seals it: “None of these proposed changes is good news for entrepreneurs…”

We are given our opinions before we are even given the facts—and, as a small-to-mid-sized business owner myself, reading that sort of speech kind of makes me want to reach for the ol’ torch-and-pitchfork in a way logic never could.

Finding the Balance

As with most writing, the proper tool really depends upon the nature of the job. The Toronto Sun article is written to explain the outrage to outsiders who may not understand what all the fuss is about. In fact, it ends with a ‘Stay tuned’ type of message that encourages readers to follow their ongoing coverage. On the other hand, the Financial Post article is clearly written with the intention of driving the readers to action. (Whether that action is to encourage the public to pressure the government into changing the plan, or simply to scare them into the safe and loving arms of their business accountant is a matter for another article.)

However, perhaps the most important thing to note is that each article uses at least a little bit of both logic and passion. The Sun article quotes an anti-reform editorial posted in an earlier edition which portrays the decision-makers as being completely disconnected and ignorant of how the tax system works in the first place, while the Financial Post sprinkles facts throughout its passionate rhetoric, in lines such as “They’ll only earn the government a projected $250 million a year in extra revenue — hardly a massive enough windfall to justify such draconian action.”

In other words, argumentation tends to be a spectrum, and the most effective position really depends upon your personal goals.

Hard at workWhat does this have to do with business?

Every single piece of information that a business releases is meant to persuade the readers of something. Brochures showcase your services. Business cards convey your brand image. Blogs inform your readers while establishing you as a professional and thought-leader in your field. Car ads make people want to drive. Food ads make people want to eat. Political ads make people want to vote. Even internal documents such as white papers are meant to persuade board members that a certain action or technology is the best course for the business.

In a manner of speaking, marketing is all argumentation.

Open for businessOf what, then, am I trying to persuade you?

As with all the posts on my blog, my first goal is to help you to make more informed decisions with regards to your business and marketing. If they find this informative, I hope that my readership will dig through my archive and follow me for more content in the future. And, finally, if they need to convince customers, clients, prospects, board members, investors, or the general public, I would hope that they get in touch so that we can find a call to action that works. Such as…

Marketing is an argument that we can help you win. Contact us today to get started.

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William Hull

With a background in publishing and experience writing copy for virtually every medium, Will has dedicated himself to becoming as versatile, knowledgeable, and effective as humanly possible. His core belief of quality over quantity is the foundation upon which Precision Impact was built.

He is also unable to make a 'Penseur' pose without looking at least a bit ridiculous, as evidenced by his profile photo.
William Hull
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