Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Cart Before the Jackass

Presidential candidate and Christian brutalizee Governor Dick Perry has come up with his very own tax plan, presumably because someone told him he had to. The someone must have been Jesus, because Gov. Perry doesn't like to listen to anyone else.

Except Megadeth.
 Anyway, Gov. Perry proudly announced this morning that if he were President, Americans could fit their entire tax return on a postcard. Along with a bitchin' recipe for coyote chili and what's left of the Constitution. And still have room to doodle superheroes in the margins.

Gov. Perry's actual college admission essay. Allegedly.
 Gov. Perry proposes letting Americans choose between utilizing the existing tax code or just sending 20% of their money to the IRS. Because the best strategy to pare down a cumbersome, complicated system of filing taxes is to have an indetermine number of people randomly do it a completely different way.

This is also how the rules to Dungeons and Dragons
grew from a pamphlet to a set of tomes that
rivals the Library of Congress.
 I'm all for streamlining the tax code. It's ridiculously complex. In 2005, the estimated cost of collecting $1.2 trillion in federal income tax was $265 billion - that's 22 cents for every dollar collected. Better than most debt-collection agencies, but you can't get the government off your back by changing your phone number, either. Or so I've heard. In any event, the tax-collection burden is estimated to increase to more than $480 billion by 2015, although of course we can avert that by sending a postcard to the IRS, according to Gov. Perry. The point is, a huge and expensive bureaucracy exists just to collect tax money at the federal level. That budget would better serve citizens and stimulate the economy by being spent elsewhere.

Like Hot Topic. Damn, I love that place.
 So a flat tax could conceivably save America a bunch of money. Especially if you're rich, because the wealthiest Americans would realize a substantial tax break by paying 20%, while most everyone else would end up paying a higher rate. Oops, did I say that out loud?

Let's take a look a some numbers from the Congressional Budget Office.

Amazing what you can find by Googling.

I hate numbers. Really, I'd much rather mangle language than do math. But these are pretty straightforward, and if I can understand them, you can bet that Gov. Dick Perry, or at least his brighter aides, understand them as well. Under the current tax code - big and ugly as it may be - the effective tax rate for the top 10 percent of earners is 30% this year, a whopping increase of 3% since 2001. Meanwhile, the effective rate for the poorest 20% of Americans is just 7.8%. Those pikers. Those...hey look, if you're in the bottom 20%, your effective tax rate has increased by 25% in the last 10 years! Serves 'em right for not getting out of the market before the dot-com bust.

The poor: What awful people.
 But forget that. Let's talk about the flat tax. Under Gov. Perry's plan (and to be fair, under any similar flat-tax plan, because it's not as if Dick had an original idea here), the wealthiest 10% of Americans - the ones who actually pay almost half of all federal taxes because any percentage of what they make is a hell of a lot more in gross dollars than the same percentage of what I make - would  see their effective tax rate decrease by something like 30%. Meanwhile, 60% of all American taxpayers would experience a rate increase, and the bottom 10% would shoulder a rate two and a half times higher than they currently face.

This is a totally fair and equitable shift in the tax burden, says Gov. Perry. The rich will use their tax savings to "unleash growth," probably in places like India and Vietnam, where they will continue to send the last shreds of our service and manufacturing jobs so they can squeeze an extra penny dividend out of their stock portfolios. They certainly won't use it to create more jobs for landscapers or child-care workers, because those people are all filthy illegals and if you hire them, a bald eagle dies.

Mitt Romney here explains to Gov. Perry how touching
 an hourly worker does not necessarily give you cooties.
 Meanwhile, if you gave lower- and middle-income people a similar break, they'd just use it to buy cheap crap at Wal-Mart (or, you know, Hot Topic), and that doesn't help the economy, except for those people who own the sweatshops in Vietnam where the cheap crap is made. You know what they say: Give a man a job and he'll work like a sucker, but give him a T-shirt made by child labor in a developing nation, and Dick Perry will go to the White House.

Gov. Perry also proposes slashing corporate taxes specifically for those businesses that have made huge profits by moving operations overseas. Because if there's a better way to encourage big business to invest in America by rewarding them for not investing in America, I don't know what it is.

When asked to comment, Gov. Perry replied, "Herp derp."
 Meanwhile, for small business owners and entrepreneurs hoping to start new businesess, Gov. Perry offered...uh, nothing. Oh, wait, he kind of did. He pledged to put an end to "entitlements," thus ensuring a steady supply of uninsured, uneducated, and homeless workers to help build those businesses. That's good, right? It's only fair that social mobility go both ways.

Maybe the guy on the right is actually giving money
to the guy on the left. Don't judge.
 So I do have a tiny little problem with Gov. Perry's tax plan. Like every conservative tax proposal since the Reagan era, it assumes what people will do if you give them more money. For instance, giving boatloads of money to rich people results in the creation of vibrant new industries, while "regular" folks with a few extra bucks in their pockets will just tinker with junk in their garage.

These losers - Steve and Steve somebody-or-other - 
 never amounted to anything.
 Call me crazy, but how about rewarding obscenely profitable companies with tax breaks after they've created jobs or built factories in the United States? Or offering start-ups long-term loans and other incentives tied to growth instead of to the number of token women and minorities they boast? How about setting fair and responsible graduated income tax rates and then eliminating loopholes and dodges that keep people at any income level from paying the appropriate rate?

I don't know how to do those things, by the way. It seems really difficult and should be undertaken only by very smart people with an educated interest in the long-term future of America. I'm not qualified. Neither is Gov. Perry. In fact, by definition there's not a single person running for President who can claim the detached knowledge needed to solve the problems in our tax laws.

He doesn't want the job.
Besides, even His "Render unto Caesar" policy had flaws.
 So I have no solution to offer. Just a word of advice: Keep trying, ladies and gentlemen. And Gov. Perry, don't try to fit it all on a postcard. Get a blue book or something. Even if it means more thinking. Plus, you can draw Superman in the margins.

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