Costly Words

I have several pet peeves, and one of them is the idea that when Americans get to keep their own money, it somehow “costs” the government. This notion is on display today in a story about fiscal-cliff negotiations, in the Washington Post:

…the generations-old mortgage-interest deduction — which costs the government roughly $100 billion a year… [emphasis added]

Perhaps it makes sense to get rid of the mortgage-interest deduction, provided that it’s a part of a broad and healthy tax reform. That’s a debate worth having. And I also understand how deductions look on a balance sheet. But that’s not the point. The point is that personal property — mine, yours, and that of reporters at the Post – doesn’t cost the government. We shouldn’t use words and phrases that suggest otherwise.

At Hillsdale College, I teach a couple of writing courses. This is the kind of statement that I’d circle with a red pen and scrawl, “Can you think of a way to rephrase?”

John J. Miller — John J. Miller is the national correspondent for National Review and the director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College. His new book is Reading Around: Journalism on Authors, Artists, and Ideas.

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