Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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April 16, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

FLAT EARTH, FLAT TAX....Like the swallows returning to Capistrano, you can count on April 15 bringing a flurry of proposals from conservatives for a flat tax. Here is Daniel Mitchell in National Review:

There is little doubt that our tax code is grossly unfair. We have no idea whether people like Bill Gates and Shaquille ONeal pay too much or too little.

....This is why the flat tax makes so much sense. Every household would get a deduction based on family size, but then every dollar of income above that level would be subject to tax. Such a system would ensure that the rich paid their fair share, but it would avoid the punitive tax rates that have caused so much economic misery in Europe. If you make twice as much as your neighbor, you pay twice as much tax.

It's an amazing coincidence, isn't it, that conservative tax proposals always seem to result in the rich paying less tax? I wonder if Mitchell is equally in favor of converting the Social Security tax into a flat tax?

But what really gets me is how they always present these things as if we need a flat tax because the tax code is too damn complex. Well, the tax code is too damn complex, but the least complex thing about it is the part where you look up your adjusted gross income in the tax table to figure out how much you owe. The complex part is figuring out your adjusted gross income in the first place, something that has nothing to do with whether the tax rate for millionaires is higher than the tax rate for those at the poverty line.

It is columns like this that cause me to lose patience with the tax jihadists on the right. It is dishonest to pretend that flattening tax rates has any connection to simplifying the tax code. It is dishonest to pretend that a flat income tax is "fair" while conveniently forgetting to suggest the same for Social Security taxes. It is dishonest to pretend that "income" is the same for everyone while failing to even mention capital gains, tax shelters, corporate perks, deferred compensation, pension contributions, stock options, or the thousand other options the wealthy have for making money that doesn't quite count as "income." It is dishonest not to mention that simple arithmetic guarantees that any flat income tax proposal would raise taxes for practically every middle class family in the country.

It's not, as Mitchell suggests, "IRS agents and tax lawyers" who would suffer under his proposal. It's every working stiff in the country who would end up paying higher taxes in order to fund a break for the wealthy. But I guess that's the whole point, isn't it?

Kevin Drum 3:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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