Advertisement

Qualitative Sociology

, Volume 36, Issue 1, pp 53–79 | Cite as

The Politicization of Knowledge Claims: The “Laffer Curve” in the U.S. Congress

  • Elizabeth Popp BermanEmail author
  • Laura M. Milanes-Reyes
Article

Abstract

Political debates over knowledge claims often become emotionally charged, with two sides not only disputing what is true but seeing those on the other side as deluded or worse. By looking at use of the term “Laffer curve” in the U.S. Congress from 1977 to 2010, we draw attention to two ways such debates over knowledge claims can evolve. The Laffer curve is a simple schematic representation of the relationship between tax rates and government revenue that was influential in U.S. tax policy in the late 1970s. Early on, Republicans and Democrats faced off over the Laffer curve as a cognitive symbol to be debated with argument, evidence, and reference to experts. Over time, Republicans continued to treat the Laffer curve as a cognitive symbol, but for Democrats it became a polluted expressive symbol that could be dismissed without debate. Democrats also articulated the Laffer curve as part of an ironic narrative about the failure of the Reagan administration, which ended the possibility of serious deliberation. We suggest that the dynamics seen here may also be present around other politicized knowledge claims, such as the claim that human activity is causing climate change.

Keywords

Politics Knowledge Science Symbols Culture Taxes 

Notes

Acknowledgements

We would like to thank Ron Jacobs, Richard Lachmann, Aaron Major, Isaac Martin, Nicholas Pagnucco, the Culture Group at the University at Albany, Qualitative Sociology editor David Smilde, and four anonymous reviewers for their useful feedback. Earlier versions of this paper were presented to audiences at the 2009 annual meeting of the Society for Social Studies of Science and the 2011 annual meeting of the American Sociological Association.

References

  1. Abolafia, Mitchel Y. 2010. Narrative construction as sensemaking: How a central bank thinks. Organization Studies 31: 349–367.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Alexander, Jeffrey C. 2011. Market as narrative and character: For a cultural sociology of economic life. Journal of Cultural Economy 4: 477–488.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Anderson, Martin. 1990. Revolution: The Reagan legacy. Stanford: Hoover Institution Press.Google Scholar
  4. Atkinson, Caroline. 1980. Key advisors see early push on tax policy. Washington Post, 6 November.Google Scholar
  5. Berman, Elizabeth Popp, and Nicholas Pagnucco. 2010. Economic ideas and the political process: Debating tax cuts in the U.S. House of Representatives, 1962–1981. Politics and Society 38: 347–372.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bloor, David. 1991. Knowledge and social imagery. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  7. Blumenthal, Sidney. 1986. The rise of the counter-establishment: The conservative ascent to political power. New York: Union Square Press.Google Scholar
  8. Campbell, John L. 1998. Institutional analysis and the role of ideas in political economy. Theory and Society 27: 377–409.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cannon, Lou. 1979. Reagan announces, urges strength at home, abroad. Washington Post, 13 November.Google Scholar
  10. Collins, Harry. 1992. Changing order: Replication and induction in scientific practice. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  11. Congressional Quarterly. 1981. Tax cut bill, 1978 legislative chronology. In Congress and the nation, 1977–1980, vol. 5. Washington, DC: CQ Press.Google Scholar
  12. Congressional Quarterly. 1982. Congress enacts President Reagan’s tax plan. In CQ almanac 1981. Washington, DC: CQ Press.Google Scholar
  13. Congressional Quarterly. 1985a. Reagan tax cuts, 1981 legislative chronology. In Congress and the nation, 1981–1984, vol. 6. Washington, DC: CQ Press.Google Scholar
  14. Congressional Quarterly. 1985b. Tax policy, 1981–1984 legislative overview. In Congress and the nation, 1981–1984, vol. 6. Washington, DC: CQ Press.Google Scholar
  15. Congressional Quarterly. 1989. Tax policy, 1985–1988 legislative overview. In Congress and the nation, 1985–1988, vol. 7. Washington, DC: CQ Press.Google Scholar
  16. Congressional Quarterly. 1993a. Global warming, 1989–1990 legislative chronology. In Congress and the nation, 1989–1992, vol. 8. Washington, DC: CQ Press.Google Scholar
  17. Congressional Quarterly. 1993b. Tax policy, 1989–1992 legislative overview. In Congress and the nation, 1989–1992, vol. 8. Washington, DC: CQ Press.Google Scholar
  18. Congressional Quarterly. 1997. Tax policy, 1993–1996 legislative overview. In Congress and the nation, 1993–1996, vol. 9. Washington, DC: CQ Press.Google Scholar
  19. Congressional Quarterly. 2002. Global warming, 1997–1998 legislative chronology. In Congress and the nation, 1997–2001, vol. 10. Washington, DC: CQ Press.Google Scholar
  20. Congressional Quarterly. 2006. Global environment, 2003–2004 legislative chronology. In Congress and the nation, 2001–2004, vol. 11. Washington, DC: CQ Press.Google Scholar
  21. Congressional Quarterly. 2008. Congress and the budget: Struggling for control. In Guide to congress, vol. 1, 6th ed. Washington, DC: CQ Press.Google Scholar
  22. de Santos, Martin. 2009. Fact-totems and the statistical imagination: The public life of a statistic in Argentina 2001. Sociological Theory 27: 466–489.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Dewar, Helen. 1980. Tax cut bill squelched. Washington Post, 13 November.Google Scholar
  24. Durkheim, Emile. 1912/1995. The elementary forms of religious life. New York: The Free Press.Google Scholar
  25. Durkheim, Emile, and Marcel Mauss. 1903/1963. Primitive classification. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  26. Epstein, Steven. 1996. Impure science: AIDS, activism, and the politics of knowledge. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  27. Gauchat, Gordon. 2012. Politicization of science in the public sphere: A study of public trust in the United States, 1974 to 2010. The American Journal of Sociology 77: 167–187.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Jamieson, Kathleen Hall, and Erika Falk. 1999. Civility in the House of Representatives: The 105th Congress. The Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. http://www.annenbergpublicpolicycenter.org/Downloads/Political_Communication/105thCongressCivil/REP26.PDF. Accessed 21 October 2012.
  29. Johnson, Robert Wolcott. 1980. The passage of the Investment Incentive Act of 1978: A case study of business influencing public policy. Ph.D. dissertation in Business Administration. Cambridge: Harvard University.Google Scholar
  30. Laffer, Arthur B. 2004. The Laffer curve: Past, present, and future. The Heritage Foundation. http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2004/06/the-laffer-curve-past-present-and-future. Accessed 21 October 2012.
  31. Martin, Isaac William. 2008. The permanent tax revolt: How the property tax transformed American politics. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  32. McCarty, Nolan, Keith T. Poole, and Howard Rosenthal. 2006. Polarized America: The dance of ideology and unequal riches. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  33. McCright, Aaron M., and Riley E. Dunlap. 2011. The politicization of climate change and polarization in the American public’s view of global warming, 2001–2010. The Sociological Quarterly 52: 155–194.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Mellon, Andrew. 1924. Taxation: The people’s business. New York: Ayer Company Publishers.Google Scholar
  35. Nyhan, Brandon, and Jason Reifler. 2010. When corrections fail: The persistence of political misperceptions. Political Behavior 32: 303–330.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Parsons, Talcott. 1953. The theory of symbolism in relation to action. In Working papers in the theory of action, ed. Talcott Parsons, Robert F. Bales, and Edward A. Shils, 31–62. New York: The Free Press.Google Scholar
  37. Parsons, Talcott, and Edward A. Shils. 1951. Values, motives, and systems of action. In Toward a general theory of action, ed. Talcott Parsons and Edward A. Shils, 47–275. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  38. Pine, Art. 1978. A Tax Break for the Rich in Election Year? The Washington Post, 21 May.Google Scholar
  39. Shogan, Robert. 1980. Bush ends his waiting game, attacks Reagan. Los Angeles Times, 14 April.Google Scholar
  40. Sinclair, Barbara. 2006. Party wars: Polarization and the politics of national policy making. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.Google Scholar
  41. Smith, Philip. 2012. Narrating global warming. In The Oxford handbook of cultural sociology, ed. Jeffrey C. Alexander, Ronald N. Jacobs, and Philip Smith, 745–760. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  42. Smith, Philip, and Alexander Riley. 2009. Cultural theory: An introduction. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.Google Scholar
  43. Stockman, David. 1986. The triumph of politics: How the Reagan Revolution failed. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers.Google Scholar
  44. Stone, Deborah A. 1989. Causal stories and the formation of policy agendas. Political Quarterly 104: 281–300.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Strout, Richard L. 1980. Recession prompting drastic switch in U.S. economic policy. Christian Science Monitor, 16 June.Google Scholar
  46. Suttles, Gerald D. 2010. Front page economics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  47. Tognato, Carlo. 2008. Bringing culture back in: A neo-Durkheimian perspective on central banking. Innovar 18: 93–116.Google Scholar
  48. Uslaner, Eric M. 1993. The decline of comity in Congress. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.Google Scholar
  49. Wherry, Frederick. 2004. International statistics and social structure: The case of the Human Development Index. International Review of Sociology 14: 151–169.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Zucker, Seymour. 1978. The fallacy of slashing taxes without cutting spending. Business Week, 17 August.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Elizabeth Popp Berman
    • 1
    Email author
  • Laura M. Milanes-Reyes
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.University at Albany, SUNYAlbanyUSA
  2. 2.University of the AndesBogotáColombia

Personalised recommendations