In an effort to revive his flagging candidacy, Rick Perry promised yesterday to resurrect a decades-old tax proposal that was instrumental in making Steve Forbes Not President of the United States when the latter promised to replace the present system of graduated tax rates based on income with a single rate for all taxpayers. While speaking at the Western Republican Leadership Conference, Perry offered fresh brains to a zombie idea that has been cut down more times than a Star Trek ensign…
Texas Gov. Rick Perry is making a bold grab for the conservative heart of the GOP with his decision to propose a flat tax as a core component of his economic recovery plan.
A flat tax has been an elusive dream of conservative Republicans for decades, occasionally springing up on the fringes of presidential campaigns, most recently in Steve Forbes’s White House runs in 1996 and 2000.
"I want to make the tax code so simple that even Timothy Geithner can file his taxes on time," Perry said, a reference to the embarrassment that complicated the Treasury secretary’s confirmation in 2009.
The confusing thing about this particular undead "simplicity" argument is that it conflates two separate issues. The complicated part of doing your taxes is calculating your taxable income. Can a marijuana clinic write off its drug-related purchases? (Yes and no.) Is that transvestite escort you bought for your biggest client a legitimate business expense? (Probably not). Are those breast implants, the ones you got after a Great Recession-fueled mid-career change from executive assistant to stripper, tax deductible? (Perhaps!)
These are difficult moral, philosophical, and accounting issues that make for a byzantine tax code. But once you've calculated your taxable income, the existence of progressive tax brackets for different income categories doesn't add to the complexity of the tax code. It's not necessary to replace the current code with a system that would raise taxes on the poor and cut them for the wealthy if tax simplification is the sole goal.
But what if your goal is to establish a "revenue-raising system most compatible with human freedom," as one economist formerly described the flat tax? Then Perry's upcoming proposal might just be for you, especially if you believe Turkmenistan (R.I.P. Turkmenbashi), Russia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, and Iraq, among other flat tax jurisdictions, represent the pinnacle of personal liberty.
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Tags: Primaries, Rick Perry, Taxes