Our Tax Code: The Fustercluck From Which Everything Rancid Crawls

William F. Buckley proposed a simple tax reform in 1973. The language barrier that separates people like Buckley from that odd species we call Congress prevented his thoughts from finding fertile soil.  And in the 40 years between, the tax code has become only murkier and more dangerous.

4-Reforms

“Our tax laws were,” Buckley wrote in Four Reforms: A Guide for the Seventies, “designed historically to raise revenue for the operations of government.”  He continues:

Along the way the operations of government inflated in purpose and ambition, evolving from modest Jeffersonian instruments for effecting the safety of the state into the gargantuan instruments of the social perfectionists.

He points out that attempts to cure a social ill through tax code always and everywhere exacerbates the ill and sprouts new seedlings of destruction. For example, the ill-fated luxury tax of the 1990s, which intended to punish conspicuous consumers who spent their hard-earned dollars on boats, planes, and furs, ended up destroying several American industries and displacing tens of thousands of not-so-wealthy workers. The rich, meanwhile, could import luxury items from Latin America, Asia, and Europe, often cheaper than their American equivalent even before the luxury tax took effect.

Here’s a little history of how we got here, and a reiteration of Buckley’s modest proposal of 1973.

At the height Roosevelt’s New Deal, only about 3 million Americans paid any income tax at all. But World War II changed all that. To feed the war machine, Congress broadened the tax base to about 42 million Americans, most of whom viewed their new tax burden as a) worthwhile, b) reasonable, and c) temporary. Most Americans had one or more family members fighting in Europe or the Pacific, and paying a portion of their income to fund the war effort was something of an honor. At the time, there was but a single tax rate paid by all Americans, married or single.

When the war ended, some states created “community property” laws which stated that wives were entitled to half the husband’s income. This led to a change in the tax law which allowed men to deduct alimony payments, which led couples to divorce for the tax advantage, which created scandals as more couples lived openly in sin.

So Congress amended the law again to allow married couples to pay separate taxes which tended to drop them a few rungs on the tax ladder, reducing their overall tax rate.  This caused overall government revenue to drop about the time General Marshall’s plan to rebuild Europe needed funding.

In 1951 then created the unmarried head-of-household allowing single working parents to pay taxes at a lower rate, as if they had a spouse who didn’t work. This perturbed the single taxpayers who wrote the Congressmen (they were almost all men then). 

As Buckley points out, at this point it should have become clear to anyone that “to favor somebody is almost necessarily to discriminate against somebody else.”

The single taxpayer complaints led to more reforms in 1969. Now, single taxpayers could not pay more than 20 percent more than a married taxpayer in the same bracket.  (Confused yet?)  Now, dual-income households in which both husband and wife worked were furious that they were paying more taxes than single people in the same tax bracket. Congress responded, but now couples with children complained that they were paying the same amount as childless couples, discouraging family creation and giving the childless unfair economic advantage.

And on we go, until in the latest fiscal cliff tax cut/increase/pork festival, NASCAR owner get special tax advantage to compensate for their inability to turn right.

So the tax code is now heavier than health man can bench press, the IRS cannot explain what you should pay, and businesses spend as much on tax avoidance as they do on research and development.

It’s time to stop the madness.

While some believe the way to drum up broad support for change is to propose radical elimination of the income tax altogether, scientific investigations of political change reveal that people prefer incremental and evolutionary changes to revolutionary changes.  Therefore, I won’t endorse the Fair Tax, even though I like it better than what Buckley proposed.

His proposal?  A simple flat rate of 15% that applies to all income. No exemptions, no deductions, no brackets.

The flat tax should appeal to Warren Buffett and his ilk, because he and his secretary would pay the same damn rate for a change.  The formula, which I’ve blogged about many times, is stupidly simply: what did you make? Multiply by .15. Send it in. 

True, this would be a tax increase for many people. Sorry. We have a $16 trillion+ national debt to pay down.  When some future president phones into Dave Ramsey to yell “We’re Debt Free!” we can look at reducing the rate.

The biggest social problem this proposal creates is the displacement of thousands of tax workers at H&R Block, Intuit, and the IRS.

I think we can deal with that, though.

It’s Time To End War On Weed

When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for conservatives to divorce themselves from superstitions they’ve embraced since the Progressive Movement of the 1920s and join the pantheon of reasonable people, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. I hold these truths to be totally friggin’ obvious, that all drugs are not created equal, that we’ve wasted billions of dollars and millions of lives pursuing a demented “zero tolerance” temperance goal that was Never Going To Happen, that the losses we’ve endured trying stamp out weed have cost American society more than they've gained, that among these losses are lives, money, and opportunity. That whenever a policy becomes so destructive of the ends of living free and prospering that even the Dean of American Conservative Intellectualism screams “LEGALIZE IT,” only an idiot would hold propaganda images from Refer Madness as an excuse to support our current marijuana prohibition. That if tomorrow the laws of the federal government and the 48 states still prohibiting possession of a milligram of marijuana were erased and forgotten, the world would go on, America would remain the lone Super Power (with other gaining) and the largest economy in the history of mankind, dogs would continue to chase cats, Angelina Jolie would still be hot, and Rachel Maddow would remain an idiot. To prove this, let Facts about this War On Drugs be submitted to a candid world:

  • It costs about $56 billion a year
  • It squanders tax revenue from the drugs targeted of about $42 billion (if taxed like alcohol and tobacco)
  • It costs governments $98 billion dollars a year in net money—a fine down payment on our umpteen-quadrillion dollar national debt
  • It screws up the lives of about 680,000 Americans per year whose only crime was possession of marijuana with no intent to distribute
  • It fails to reduce the number of people who try weed, as the usage rate in the USA is identical to usage in Holland where it’s legal
  • It rewards organized crime, street gangs, and international drug cartels by creating a black market with inflated prices
  • It takes police away from serious crimes like rape, murder, assault, and terrorism
  • It has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance. (Sorry. That’s such an awesome sentence I had to steal it from TJ.)

Seriously, here’s what Buckley said about conservatives and weed in 2004:

Conservatives pride themselves on resisting change, which is as it should be. But intelligent deference to tradition and stability can evolve into intellectual sloth and moral fanaticism, as when conservatives simply decline to look up from dogma because the effort to raise their heads and reconsider is too great. The laws aren't exactly indefensible, because practically nothing is, and the thunderers who tell us to stay the course can always find one man or woman who, having taken marijuana, moved on to severe mental disorder. But that argument, to quote myself, is on the order of saying that every rapist began by masturbating. General rules based on individual victims are unwise. And although there is a perfectly respectable case against using marijuana, the penalties imposed on those who reject that case, or who give way to weakness of resolution, are very difficult to defend. If all our laws were paradigmatic, imagine what we would do to anyone caught lighting a cigarette, or drinking a beer. Or — exulting in life in the paradigm — committing adultery. Send them all to Guantanamo? [emphasis added for emphasis]

So, grow up, conservatives, or be ready to lose a lot of tourism money to Colorado and Washington. Pot isn’t a super-addictive poison that gives people super-human strength to kill cops and rape nuns. It’s not H, and it’s not Angel Dust. It’s pot. Unless you’re afraid of people driving too slow and staying out of bar fights, settle down. If pot were legalized, Hostess would still be in business and likely challenging Apple for the highest market cap in history.

If conservatives want to be seen as serious about the real threats to freedom, we better let go of the bogeyman we’ve carried over from the Coolidge administration.

If you do nothing else in 2013, Legalize It.

This Sums Up Everything I Believe Better Than I Ever Could

Buckley (right) and L. Brent Bozell Jr. promot... The Liberal Kirsten Powers (my favorite liberal at times) described the leftist media's mania as "absolutely, utterly insane."

What triggered the maniacal insanity from MSNBC and The New York Times (among others) was Mitt Romney's public dismay over the way Barack Obama's State Department responded to terror attacks on US embassies in Egypt and Libya.

The whole episode drove me to look back to William F. Buckley's credenda for National Review. Published in its first issue, November 19, 1955, Buckley summarized the magazine's position. I can find no way to improve Buckley's words, so I ask you to take this list to heart:

Among our convictions:

  1. It is the job of centralized government (in peacetime) to protect its citizens’ lives, liberty and property. All other activities of government tend to diminish freedom and hamper progress. The growth of government(the dominant social feature of this century) must be fought relentlessly. In this great social conflict of the era, we are, without reservations, on the libertarian side.
  2. The profound crisis of our era is, in essence, the conflict between the Social Engineers, who seek to adjust mankind to conform with scientific utopias, and the disciples of Truth, who defend the organic moral order. We believe that truth is neither arrived at nor illuminated by monitoring election results, binding though these are for other purposes, but by other means, including a study of human experience. On this point we are, without reservations, on the conservative side.
  3. The century’s most blatant force of satanic utopianism is communism. We consider “coexistence” with communism neither desirable nor possible, nor honorable; we find ourselves irrevocably at war with communism and shall oppose any substitute for victory.
  4. The largest cultural menace in America is the conformity of the intellectual cliques which, in education as well as the arts, are out to impose upon the nation their modish fads and fallacies, and have nearly succeeded in doing so. In this cultural issue, we are, without reservations, on the side of excellence (rather than “newness”) and of honest intellectual combat (rather than conformity).
  5. The most alarming single danger to the American political system lies in the fact that an identifiable team of Fabian operators is bent on controlling both our major political parties(under the sanction of such fatuous and unreasoned slogans as “national unity,” “middle-of-the-road,” “progressivism,” and “bipartisanship.”) Clever intriguers are reshaping both parties in the image of Babbitt, gone Social-Democrat. When and where this political issue arises, we are, without reservations, on the side of the traditional two-party system that fights its feuds in public and honestly; and we shall advocate the restoration of the two-party system at all costs.
  6. The competitive price system is indispensable to liberty and material progress. It is threatened not only by the growth of Big Brother government, but by the pressure of monopolies(including union monopolies. What is more, some labor unions have clearly identified themselves with doctrinaire socialist objectives. The characteristic problems of harassed business have gone unreported for years, with the result that the public has been taught to assume(almost instinctively) that conflicts between labor and management are generally traceable to greed and intransigence on the part of management. Sometimes they are; often they are not. NATIONAL REVIEW will explore and oppose the inroads upon the market economy caused by monopolies in general, and politically oriented unionism in particular; and it will tell the violated businessman’s side of the story.
  7. No superstition has more effectively bewitched America’s Liberal elite than the fashionable concepts of world government, the United Nations, internationalism, international atomic pools, etc. Perhaps the most important and readily demonstrable lesson of history is that freedom goes hand in hand with a state of political decentralization, that remote government is irresponsible government. It would make greater sense to grant independence to each of our 50 states than to surrender U.S. sovereignty to a world organization.

Ideas to rule one's self and one's government by.