Friday, October 28, 2011

The flat tax is bad

So says I in this week's Scripps Howard column with Ben Boychuk:
The flat tax is Republican-led class warfare. It makes the rich richer and the poor poorer, for no better purpose than making the rich richer and the poor poorer.

We have progressive taxation -- in which people with higher incomes pay a higher tax rate than those at the lower end of the scale -- for a reason: People on the low end are less able to pay. Flat taxes invert that logic, giving the rich a huge tax break and often burdening the poor.

The Tax Policy Center says a low-income family making $31,000 a year would lose its $5,147 tax return under Perry's plan, for example.

(Herman Cain's plan is worse. Nearly everybody making under $50,000 would see a huge tax increase.)

Perry's plan was unveiled the same day as a new Congressional Budget Office report showing economic inequality is widening in this country.

From 1979 to 2007, people in the richest 1 percent grew their after-tax income by 275 percent. The three-fifths of people in the middle class saw less than 40 percent income growth during the same period -- and the bottom fifth grew incomes just 18 percent.

The gap is getting bigger. Even before the recession, the middle class was being left behind. Perry's plan would exacerbate the problem -- and likely balloon the deficit even further.

"But I don't care about that," Perry says. He should.

In the new book "The Darwin Economy," economist Robert H. Frank points to research that high levels of income inequality are correlated to slow economic growth. "Larger shares (of income) for poor and middle-income groups were associated with higher growth rates," Frank writes.

Flat taxes burden the poor, make income inequality worse, and in so doing put a stranglehold on an already-strangled economy. Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?
Ben, in his portion of the column, points out that Perry's plan would let people opt to stay under the current tax structure. Fair point. The likely result of that is top earners would choose the flat tax and lower earners would stick with the current tax structure—meaning the Perry plan is to make the rich richer, and let the poor spin their wheels. That's not quite as awful as the picture I paint, but it seems kind of pointless—particularly in an era of ballooning deficits. Nobody's made a serious suggestion that I'm aware of that the problem with the economy is that rich people don't have enough money; I'm skeptical that such a plan would actually deliver good results for the rest of us.

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