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Colin Walsh

Professor Granillo

English 101

26 September 2018

It’s ok to be confused; A rhetorical analysis of Joseph E. Stiglitz

People are intimidated to talk about complex issues, especially when it involves rhetoric.

Rhetoric in layman's terms is the art of persuasion. Rhetoric comes in three types; logos is the

method of persuading the target audience with reason, using facts and figures, ethos is used as a

means of convincing the reader with the authority or credibility of the persuader, and pathos is a

way of convincing the audience of an argument by creating an emotional response to a call to

action or a convincing story. When reading an article about a subject are not familiar with, the

author has to convince others that their view on the matter is the correct one, while also being

educational at the same time. This dynamic needs to be without oversight, especially when

talking about an event that has personally affected their lives and shaped their bias. The great

imbalance between the taxation of the elite and everyone else in Joseph E. Stiglitz’s article, “A

Tax System Stacked against the 99 Percent” is supported by all the points that uphold a link

towards a call to change the system, by hopefully giving the “99 percent” the tools needed for an

honest change; These points are mainly explained in the appeals of ethos in how the decisions of

these laws are justified in the eyes of the beholder, pathos in the effects these taxes might have

affected the target audience, and logos with the use of large quantifiable numbers to help the

audience understand the situation.


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The purpose of this article might be for education on the injustice American tax system, a

matter that is intimidating to some and to enlighten others on how true the matter might be. The

use of logos is very pivotal to the conversation at hand. The foundation of the article relies on

numbers and examples from the past, “ The top marginal income tax rate peaked at 94 percent

during World War II and remained at 70 percent throughout the 1960s and 1970s; it is now 39.6

percent.” (287) . Examples like these give the audience the perspective to tackle the problem if

they choose to. Throughout this article, the most common appeals used to persuade are logos and

ethos. While there are sections that do contain elements of pathos, the focus is directed towards

education and not opinions. However, with a concept that can be considered foreign and

complex, it is hard to tell if the information presented to us is credible.

For anyone who isn’t already majoring or planning to major in the world of economics,

it’s unlikely at all to find any source of information that can be as universal as film or other

forms of digital media. The use of ethos is quite effective in establishing how believable he is in

his writings. With a complex and most intimidating subject in the American tax system, readers

need someone who has their own grasp on the reality on the matter. This implies that this source

is not only credible, it’s written by the most qualified person around. “ Joseph E. Stiglitz, the

winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2001, teaches at Columbia University…a senior vice

president and chief economist at the World Bank, and served as chairman of the Council of

Economic Advisors.” (286). Hence if there was any doubt about regarding the author’s

credibility, that is cleared up now. With the global and emotion impact this issue has on their

lives, it’s not everyday evidence can read from a professionals point of view and have it in a

sense geared against the former profession that he excels in. If not, we would be stuck with a

piece lost in the sea of contradiction, i.e., a paper about economics that is not considered for an
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outside perspective, an example often missing when debating complecated and controversial. In

otherwords, with all the I’s dotted and the T’s crossed for the author’s credentials and assured the

proper tone through its appeals, let’s see how these appeals actually stack up inside this well

oragnized report.

Based on the foundation of appeals, the world of politics is mainly centered on ethics,

that is why the use of ethos is important. Despite the many promises to make taxes fairer or to

have less of them overall, many political opponents show hypocrisy and double down on the

current status quo. “Mitt Romney,… admitted he only paid 14 percent of his income in 2011,

even as he notoriously complained that 47 percent of Americans are freeloaders” (Stiglitz 290).

It also doesn’t help that large companies like Apple and Amazon pretty much bend the system to

their will. The main point is, how can we trust these kinds of people to have our best interest if

they only look out for themselves. Plus, if that is really the case, then we must ask ourselves if

the system is fair or not.

Surprisingly, Stiglitz rhetoric supports challenges the status quo and breaking the norms

of consersation. Even as early as 2001, people have been losing their faith and only now been

questioning the system. “Research in recent years has linked the tax rates at the top, sluggish

growth and inequality.” (Stiglitz, 292). That quote was in perspective within George W. Bush’s

reign, and this kind of stuff still happens. The worst of it was yet to come for the 2008 market

crash. Even then the law hadn’t caught on to the pattern. With this cycle of financial suffering so

deeply ingrained into people’s lives has created an uncomfortable environment to expand their

voices within the economic sphere. According to the authors rhetoric, however, he’s most likely
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implying that the government doesn’t care and it’s up to the people to take charge of the

situation. So now we need to see the emotional factor need to work in this argument.

A subject of discussion as sensitive as politics can be comparable to walking on a

minefield, that’s why the use of pathos is crucial and should be used in moderation. In this

article, however, the author seems to acknowledge that the use of pathos is necessary for

producing a call to action and a sense of shock. In his own writing, his use of pathos is not

entirely emotional with layers of logos for support. Stiglitz emphases “What should shock and

outrage us is that as the top 1 percent has grown extremely rich, the effective tax rates they pay

have markedly decreased” (Stiglitz 287). With language like this, it easy to see how people can

be invested despite all the scary numbers within the surrounding paragraphs.

An argument is only as good as its sources and Joseph E. Stiglitz has plenty. With his use

of logos, Joseph E. Stiglitz can turn a difficult situation into a more understandable one. It also

helps in an unintentional way to use logos as a sort of ethos or even a little pathos. As reported

by Stiglitz, “Denmark…a top tax rate of 60 percent…making more than $54,900…the United

States, 39.6 percent… $400,000[$450,000 for a couple]) (Stiglitz 289). This use of perspective

grants a universal understanding of the mindset of the economy and starts to create an emotional

connection through context. This if anything creates one of the foundations to better understand

the point the author is trying to get across, which is exactly what you want if your goal is to

educate.

Through the use of the different appeals, Joseph E. Stiglitz helps to gain more clarity on

one of the perspectives of how the American tax system is unfair. The use of logos helps better

quantify the gravity of the situation and the author helps with gaining a perspective on how much
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of a difference the situation is to others. The use of ethos allows the audience to question the

ideas that go into the foundation of this system and how it truly affects them. Pathos finally plays

an equally important role in connecting with the audience. This will hopefully be turned into

passion towards on changing the system. With everything said and done, the rhetoric provided

was very strong, and hopefully made the daunting world of American economics slightly more

comfortable to face so that we can all improve our lives.


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Works Cited

Stiglitz, E Joseph. A Tax System Stacked against the 99 Percent. Ed. Gerald Graff, Cathy

Birkenstein and Russel Durst. 4th. New York: W.W Norton & Company, Inc, 2018.

Textbook. 24 September 2018.