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Read My Lips: Why Americans Are Proud to Pay Taxes, Vanessa S. Williamson

Reviewed by Leslie Mccall

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Researching a topic of popular interest, as tax policy most definitely is, raises some challenges. First, these issues are often understood differently by politicians and journalists than they are by scholars. In this case, political discourse mostly operates under the assumption that Americans strongly dislike taxes, whereas most researchers would say that Americans are ambivalent about them—dissatisfied with some aspects but supportive of others, as they are with many policies. This presents a challenge because new research should inform public and scholarly debates alike. This book has something to offer both, but it is an especially powerful antidote to the popular notion that Americans despise taxes.

A second challenge has to do with the thorny question of how informed the public is about taxes, as it is often difficult to identify exactly how much information is necessary to form reasonable positions on issues. This comes into play here because the tax code is notoriously complex. I am not an expert on taxes and thus was eager to learn more about them from this book. I did, but I was also left searching for more.

To take a key example, one of the main arguments of the book begins with the finding that Americans tend to associate the word “taxes” with income taxes rather than with payroll and sales taxes. This matters, Vanessa

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