Forget hope, the 2012 presidential race is about math — and on math, both Perry& Romney kill Obama
Editor’s Note: Mary Jo Jacobi Jephson served in the Administration of President Ronald Reagan as special assistant to the president and as a member the President’s Advisory Committee on Trade Negotiations. She then served as Assistant Secretary of Commerce in the Administration of President George H. W. Bush.
Jephson has been a senior executive in the global financial services and energy industries and was appointed a British Civil Service Commissioner by Queen Elizabeth II. She is currently a portfolio executive residing in Houston.
THE TEXAS MIRACLE VS KRUGONOMICS
Raise your hand if you’ve thought about Osama bin Laden once in the past month. Anyone? How about birth certificates, or Donald Trump, or Libya, or Anthony Weiner? Seriously, anyone? Yeah. Exactly.
How about our new AA+ rating? Or 9.1 percent unemployment?
We said it back in April, and we’ll say it again: It’s (still) the economy, stupid.
The Obama presidency is in trouble, as in Jimmy Carter circa 1979 trouble. Only the most diluted Kool-Aid drinkers are still ladling what The Chosen One is peddling. These are dark days to be an Obamaton. While Progressives can be notoriously bad at basic math, here’s one number they can understand: 39 percent.
That’s President Obama’s current approval rating according to Gallup (only 29 percent approve of his handling of the economy), Rasmussen pegs his overall approval rating at 30 percent.
Here’s another: 40 percent. Of the total number of jobs created in the United States since 2009, that’s the percentage created right here in the great state of Texas, the same state that told the president to take his stimulus money and flush it down someone else’s drain.
Adios. Obamessiah. Enter Governor Good Hair.
Yes, it’s likely going to be Texas Gov. Rick Perry vs. former Massachusetts Gov. Willard Mitt Romney duking it out in the most handsome nominating race in American history, unless Gov. Chris Christie and/or Rep. Paul Ryan decide to shake things up and make a surprise entry. The winner will then set his eyes on the mirthless Obama campaign which should use the slogan: “Hey, he’s still not George W. Bush. Remember how much you didn’t like him?”
“But wait,” you say. “Paul Krugman did win a Nobel Prize for Economics in 2008! That might be a valid counter argument if the Nobel Prize were a merit-based distinction awarded based on legitimate, tangible achievements rather than ideology (see: Obama, Barack; Gore, Al).
On cue, Nobel Prize-winning left-wingnut Paul Krugman wrote a column for The New York Times attacking the Texas Miracle — an article CultureMap somehow managed to report on unironically. Fortunately, an entire cottage industry has sprung up dedicated to debunking Prof Krugman’s “theories,” and Kevin D. Williamson of the NRO does a nice job pointing out where The Laureate’s research methods might need a little work.
“But wait,” you say. “Paul Krugman did win a Nobel Prize for Economics in 2008! He’s a scion of intellectualism and integrity.” Fair enough. That might be a valid counterargument if the Nobel Prize were a merit-based distinction awarded based on legitimate, tangible achievements rather than ideology (see: Obama, Barack; Gore, Al). Moving along . . .
Few people (if any) can claim to really understand how deficits, debt, currency value, market stability, GDP, interest rates, money supply and velocity, and inflation interact to create the complicated machinery of our slow moving, hard-to-steer economic steamship.
What Krugman — one of the last remaining acolytes of John Meynard Keynes, the Patron Saint of Counterintuitive Economics — does know is that there’s nothing to be gained in trying to educate the masses on the nuances of macroeconomics, so he doesn’t try. That involves math, and math is not sexy.
Go ahead. Ask a mathlete. They don’t get a lot of action. So he oversimplifies and stokes the flames of classism to generate readership for that bastion of unbiased reporting, The New York Times.
What everyone can understand, though, is that job creation — the No. 1 issue on the minds of Americans according to pretty much every poll taken over the last couple of years (fear not, Jon Stewart, we fact checked) — is a very real, and very frightening symptom of much larger economic problems (deficits, credit ratings, currency devaluation etc.).
In other words, we’re witnessing real systemic failure with unemployment numbers — still up over nine percent nationally — serving as the canary in the proverbial mine shaft.
With revenue, taxes, entitlements, and deficits weighing heavily on the national consciousness, it seems the perfect time to discuss real stem-to-stern tax code reform. Life isn’t fair, but taxes could be.
Pundits and politicians on both sides of the aisle have been beating the tax code reform drum for decades. Candidate Ronald Reagan famously used a one-page tax return sheet as a prop. “It has two lines,” he said. “How much did you make last year? Send it in.”
Yes, friends, it’s time to push the flat tax and scrap the Code again. No, it’s not a cure-all to our woes, but as Hizzoner the Mayor Rahm Emanuel would say, “never let a crisis go to waste.” And this, friends, is a crisis.
THERE CAN’T BE ANY POLITICAL ‘WINNERS’ OR WE ALL LOSE
We can’t afford — as in literally cannot afford — the same old myopia that has characterized our economic dialogue for the better part of three decades. The parties will — of course — pander to their bases, because that’s what parties do. Republicans will push for broad spending cuts for everything outside of defense (which they did during the debt ceiling talks) while Democrats will demonize “the wealthy” to argue in favor of tax rate hikes (which they did during the debt ceiling talks). This will continue to go on for a while as though we’re somehow still facing an “either / or” proposition. The mathletes, however, know the truth. It’s time to dance on the third rails and make hamburgers out of the sacred cows.
In other words: It’s not either / or.
Well, sort of. Members of both parties have put spending cuts to unsustainable entitlement programs (or “investments,” the president’s euphemism du jour) on the table. Why? Because they can do math. The Medicare and Social Security nooses are tightening with every retiring baby boomer. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, which considers health care spending “the single greatest threat to budget stability,” has set the economic doomsday clock to five minute ‘til midnight.
Both parties agree that the tax code needs to be reformed, but they don’t agree on how.
Democrats will play the classism card by demanding we increase tax rates on “the wealthiest Americans” (because it sounds good) without getting into the inconvenient realities of tax revenue (because that requires an explanation). It’s a tired, cynical smokescreen to distract voters, but it somehow still works.
In the meantime, the president has produced a grand total of zero balanced budget proposals. Zero.
They will also continue painting Republican members of Congress as obstructionists in spite of the party’s multiple balanced budget proposals including Tea Party icon Oklahoma Rep. Tom Coburn, M.D.’s “Back in Black” plan to reduce the federal deficit by $9 trillion over 10 years. His plan worked because it included provisions that both parties hated (so in other words, it was a compromise).
Introduced in mid-July, “Back in Black” cut $1 trillion from the Pentagon’s budget; added $1 trillion in additional revenue through the closure of corporate and individual tax loopholes and deductions; pushed the Social Security eligibility age up to 70; and cut farm subsidies, Medicare, and student aid. It was bold and earned Coburn the ire of his own party, but it was an honest and functional attempt.
In the meantime, the president has produced a grand total of zero balanced budget proposals. Zero. Remember the president’s February budget proposal? It was rejected 97-0 by the Senate, unable to generate even a single Democratic vote.
Democratic leaders aren’t stupid. They’re just hoping you might be (or at least not paying very close attention). Say what you will about Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) proposal to reform Medicare “as we know it” (and boy-oh-boy folks sure have) while asking future seniors to shoulder more of the burden for their own health care, but it’s at least an honest attempt to engage the nation in a very uncomfortable conversation. Medicare can’t continue to exist as it does.
Like Social Security, Medicare is a product of another era, designed to function in a world where people didn’t live much past 65. Yes, it’s morbid, but we can’t put the discussion off any longer, not with the baby boomer bulge entering the entitlements python.
If the Bush tax cuts are allowed to expire, an estimated $3.7 trillion will be generated over the next decade (which is good for budget balancing if Washington doesn’t spend it all), but only $800 billion of that additional revenue will come courtesy of those nasty, greedy “rich” folks; the ones who have the gall to earn $250,000 or more per year by being doctors, lawyers, small business owners, or president of the United States (he’s a multimillionaire, by the way, thanks to bestsellers about his personal history and political philosophies,).
Take a wild guess from whence the other $2.9 trillion comes. That’s right: the rest of us, the middle class, or at least the 51 percent that actually pay federal income taxes. See, the Bush tax cuts weren’t just “tax cuts for the rich,” as Democratic leaders and pundits love to say. The cuts apply to all of us, including “the rich,” because is in this country we’re guaranteed equal protection under the law by the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Go ahead. Read it. The wealthy enjoy a larger tax break because they pay more taxes to start with.
Here’s where the rates vs. revenue issue comes in to play. Under the current system, some of the wealthiest Americans enjoy a smorgasbord of loopholes and credits allowing them to pay significantly less than they would under a more equitable flat tax system. This is why wealthy liberals find it so easy to talk out of both sides of their mouths when calling for tax hikes knowing full well that those hikes won’t really affect them (and if they really feel they don’t pay enough taxes, they can always forego the loopholes or write a big, fat check to the U.S. Treasury).
Forget misleading rates, America needs an equitable system that guarantees that citizens pay all of what they owe, their fair share, regardless of their level of income.
The president and his economic team know this. In fact Obama’s own bipartisan Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform stated in its report released (and immediately ignored) by The White House last December that the “American tax code is broken and must be reformed. In the quarter century since the last comprehensive tax reform, Washington has riddled the system with countless tax expenditures, which are simply spending by another name. These tax earmarks — amounting to $1.1 trillion a year of spending in the tax code — not only increase the deficit, but cause tax rates to be too high [emphasis added].”
That’s why the Commission suggested closing loopholes while lowering rates across the board, top to bottom. The only way a multi-millionaire is paying 35 percent into the current system is if he employs the world’s worst accountant.
This is why wealthy liberals find it so easy to talk out of both sides of their mouths when calling for tax hikes knowing full well that those hikes won’t really affect them (and if they really feel they don’t pay enough taxes, they can always forego the loopholes or write a big, fat check to the U.S. Treasury).
According to Nina E. Olson, the IRS ombudsman who delivers an annual report to Congress, the U.S. Tax code weighs in at a whopping 3.8 million words as of February 2010 (and that was before Obamacare deputized the IRS as the nation’s health care enforcer). Nobody really seems to know how many pages that is, but legislators have long measured it as several times longer than The Bible, James Joyce’s Ulysses, and Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace — none of which is a quick read. The Code is better measured by shelf space, rather than words.
In her 2011 report, Ms. Olson estimated that Americans spent 6.1 billion hours preparing their taxes in 2010. That’s the equivalent of over three million people working full time, all year long. Her team also found that over 60 percent of taxpayers employ a CPA, H & R Block, or other such services to prepare their returns with another 27 percent using software like Intuit’s TurboTax.
So in other words, complicated taxation means multi-billion-dollar business and an army of moneyed lobbyists paid handsomely to keep it that way. It also means that Tax Freedom Day — the day most Americans stop working to pay their income taxes and start working to take care of their families — has gone from January at the start of the last century to May at the start of this one, and has only settled back to mid-April courtesy of the Bush tax cuts. And each taxpayer has to work to mid-May to pay his or her share of the true cost of government, taxes and the federal deficit.
The Tax Foundation estimates that in 2010, tax compliance cost Americans $338 billion dollars. A flat tax system could reduce that burden by up to 90 percent. The Internal Revenue Service itself comes with an annual $12 billion price tag. The IRS employs more agents than the FBI and CIA combined, and that’s before Obamacare enforcement kicks in. A flat tax system would allow the agency’s tax collection activities to operate on a skeleton crew freeing up billions of federal dollars. How many public school music programs could that fund?
THE FLAT TAX AND YOU
The flat tax debate has raged for years, frequently dismissed as a utopian pipe dream representing far too drastic a departure from the current system. Rep. Ryan’s budget plan employed a somewhat progressive version of the flat tax (which is not quite the contradiction it seems), as did the Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.
Since we’re never going to reduce or repeal state and municipal sales taxes (which are regressive — a problem that can be mitigated by buying less foreign-made stuff we don’t need on credit we can’t repay) or payroll taxes (which is a double tax on productivity), we need to start looking at ways to close the loopholes, clarify deductions, and limit tax expenditure spending in the current federal income tax code with a more equitable, revenue-producing system created in the spirit of freedom and the flat tax.
Almost all flat tax proposals — from the moderate to the most severe — retain one major exemption based on family size. For example, a family of four would not start paying anything into the system until the household generates more than oh, let’s say $40,000 per year. This exemption would effectively counterbalance the aforementioned regressive sales tax.
In the most basic flat tax system (as outlined here by The Heritage Foundation) an individual would only report wage income since dividend, interest, and capital/business income would already have been taxed at the business level. Our current system punishes capital formation by double-taxing savings and investment through dividend taxes, capital gains taxes and the death tax.
The wage earner would input wages earned on Line 1. Lines 2-5 would be used to calculate the household’s personal allowance (based on family size). The personal allowance on Line 5 would be subtracted from Line 1 to determine taxable income and recorded on Line 6. The amount of tax is calculated on Line 7. This amount is then compared to the amount of tax withheld on Line 8, which then leaves either a tax payment (Line 9) or a refund (Line 10).
That’s it. The postcard-sized form would take the average adult about five minutes to fill out and send in
Who ever would have guessed that people donate to charity for peace of mind and the desire to do good, and not to take advantage of tax breaks?
How a flat(ter) tax rate would affect charitable contributions is up for debate. During the 1980s, the highest tax rates plummeted from 70 percent to 28 percent (accompanied by an economic surge that lasted through the ‘90s) while cumulative charitable contributions went up, indicating that donors determine how much they’re going to give to charity based more on cash flow rather than the lure of the tax deduction the contribution will generate.
Who ever would have guessed that people donate to charity for peace of mind and the desire to do good, and not to take advantage of tax breaks?
The basic flat tax system would also prevent better-off taxpayers from receiving additional tax-free income in the form of employer-provided health care by taxing that coverage as part of a wage-earner’s income. Employers would withhold tax on health care and remit it to the government on behalf of the employee along with any other tax withholdings.
This is not to say that we should sacrifice sanity in favor of simplicity. What’s been described above is a most basic concept of a flat federal income tax system. There are certainly plenty of other considerations to be made. For example, many Americans bought homes while counting on an annual mortgage interest tax deduction. Of course helping Americans buy things they can’t afford — particularly housing — hasn’t exactly worked out over the past few years. It’s a complicated discussion with many moving parts, but one that’s long overdue.
During the 2006 and 2008 election cycles, the American people signed over the deed to our economic farm to the Democrats, who rightfully now should take the blame for our fallow economic fields. If the past few months have demonstrated anything, it’s that 2012 will be about the economy, and is looking more and more like 1980 or 1992 than 2008. President Obama and his eventual Republican challenger would be wise to make tax code reform a major part of their campaign platforms.
2012 isn’t going to be about hope. It’s going to be about math.
Nobody tell Krugman. It’ll only encourage him.