FlaglerLive Editor Pierre Tristam’s weekly commentaries are broadcast on WNZF on Fridays just after 9 a.m. Here’s this week’s.
Watching Republican candidates debate on TV—to call them presidential candidates would herniated the meaning of the word—reminds me of original Star Trek episodes featuring those low-tech aliens that nevertheless managed to speak English every time. You could tell the props department at Paramount Television was having a lot of fun experimenting with the meaning of life forms. Monotones inspired by the synthetic intelligence of polyester was the equivalent of stand-up comedy back then. But I doubt anyone expected the props to graduate into templates for America’s Great White Presidential Hopes, plus the token-black pizza guy.
Here we are facing the largest deficits since World War II (thanks in good part to the most concurrent and useless wars since World War II), a crumbling infrastructure, a paralyzed job market and a society more unequal than at any point since the 1920s, yet every Republican candidate in sight wants to plunder the federal treasury, reward the rich and punish the poor by revisiting the exact policy that got us here: lower taxes, the sum total of what passes for Republican policies these days. It’s as if the supply-side psychosis of the Reagan-Bush-Bush years never taught us anything. Lower taxes neither help the economy to grow nor swell tax revenue. The last 100 years are proof to the contrary. The economy grew most in its highest-taxed years from the 1940s through the 1960s, when the highest tax rate was between 90 and 70 percent, and again in the Clinton 90s, after taxes were raised back from their Reagan-era stupor, erasing those years’ deficits. You could also measure job growth in direct proportion to tax rates: the higher the rate, the greater the job growth, culminating in the Clinton years’ 22 million new jobs, still best on the books. It’s no secret why. Tax policies that spread the wealth (those words that give reactionaries the shingles) rather than concentrate it foster a broader base of purchasing power while narrowing inequalities that are murder on a society’s cohesiveness and economic power.
But here are the candidates out-brawling their way to the lowest-common fiscal denominator.
Rick Perry launched a flat tax proposal that really isn’t a flat tax, since it would preserve all sorts of deductions, including the middle and upper classes’ fat annual welfare checks known as the mortgage interest deduction and the state and local tax deduction. He’d also increase the individual deduction to $12,500. His income tax scheme, also eliminating taxes in dividends and capital gains, would ensure that the richest would make out even more like bandits, even though that’s what they’ve been doing for the last 30 years. Steve Forbes went the way of flat taxes in 1996 and 2000 and burned before he crashed when it became immediately clear that the rich would get prosperity’s kickbacks at the expense of everyone else, particularly the working and middle classes, who’d be slammed the most by the elimination of progressive tax rates. That’s what led Mitt Romney to call Forbes’s scheme “a tax cut for fat cats.”
Romney’s verdict this year? “I love the flat tax.” Let’s not get lost in Romney’s biography of a whip-lasher.
Then there’s Herman Cain’s zany 9-9-9 plan, which reminds me of the flathead shark for its ability to look at once menacing and utterly ridiculous. The nines stand for the tax rate Cain would apply to corporate taxes, income taxes and a national sales tax (so Flagler County’s sales tax would be 16.5 percent). The plan, the brainchild of a Cain aide who never studied economics but could match Cain’s short-attention span to the nines, would never raise the money necessary to keep up with federal responsibilities. It’s also dishonest in a Trojan horse sort of way. It’s only the first of two steps toward Cain’s real goal, a 30 percent sales tax replacing all taxes, which he likes to call, even more insanely but with brilliant marketing savvy, the “fair tax.”
You know you’re in a zany world when the only Republican making any kind of sense on taxes, and not by much, is Rick Santorum.
Every one of the candidates seems to take special relish in punishing the poor for allegedly not paying taxes, as if the payroll tax, sales taxes, franchise taxes, utility taxes, communications taxes (all that invisible fine print on your utility bills, for example), are just illusions. As if the biggest and most regressive tax of the last 30 years—health insurance premiums—hasn’t smacked the middle class and priced the working class out of the insurance market altogether. Of course about half the people don’t pay income taxes, but that’s because half the people barely make enough money to live on.
And, of course, every Republican candidate wants to repeal Obama’s health reforms, because that would smack too much of true tax relief to the only classes that truly need it. No wonder the candidates don’t believe in evolution. They’re stuck in 4004 BC morality.
As if on cue, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office this week released a study that confirms what we already knew but pretended not to admit: the top 1 percent of households have literally doubled their after-tax income over the last 30 years while everyone else bumbled along, with median wages barely budging for that half of America that supposedly doesn’t pay taxes, while insurance costs, the most regressive tax of all, skyrocketed.
Maybe it’s time for a tax on nonsense. The way things are going, it promises to be an endless source of revenue from Republican candidates and their fan base. Now that’s what I call a fair tax.