Overhauling the Tax System

| Wed Dec. 8, 2010 2:15 AM EST

Niklas Blanchard says I was thinking too small in my previous post. Instead of just telling the left to embark on a campaign to sell the public on a more progressive income tax, I should have used Obama's tax deal as the launching pad for a complete overhaul of the tax system:

I view this very compromise as a golden opportunity for the left to reinvent themselves with regard to taxation, win an adjacent political battle (and a dear progressive goal), and wrap it all up in a bow that not only makes our government funding more efficient, but lowers tax rates for virtually everyone. And that is to begin a campaign of gradually removing the income tax, in exchange for a revenue-neutral tax on carbon, which would be gradually instituted as the income tax was phased out.

In addition, offer an automatic stabilization policy of payroll tax cuts [] in exchange for a sharply more progressive payroll tax, used to fund Social Security and Medicare/caid. Institute a progressive VAT or GST with a standard deduction of the first $25,000 of income for all taxpayers, and expand a means tested EITC, as well....At the end of the line, offer a land tax in exchange for really whatever the right happens to want for it. Repeal of the estate tax, maybe?

That would be a real “progressive” package that would end the debate regarding the level of income taxation (from any source; labour, capital, etc). It would simplify our tax code, and get rid of ridiculous inefficiencies like the mortgage income tax deduction. More importantly, contrary to our current tax code, the new consumption-based funding of government would encourage a greater savings and investment equilibrium.

I don't usually bother with blue sky stuff like this since it obviously has no chance of being enacted in my lifetime. Just for the record, though, I might be persuaded to support something along these lines if it were paired up with genuine national healthcare. I could live with a more efficient but (slightly) less progressive tax code, but only if it funded more progressive social programs.

On a more realistic but still Blanchardesque level, however, I continue to think that there actually ought to be a makeable deal to eliminate the corporate income tax and replace it with, say, a carbon tax. The corporate income tax, after all, is an absolute sink of inefficiency and corruption, every congressman's favorite playground for paying off campaign donors and rewarding favored industry groups. And reforming it won't work: we did that in 1986 and it took little more than a decade to degenerate back to its usual foul state. So why not just get rid of it? Corporations would love it, Republicans would love it, it would put lots of tax lawyers out of work, and replacing it with a carbon tax would be great for the planet. What's not to like? There are lots of enforcement details that would have to be worked out, but nothing insurmountable. This honestly seems like something that should be doable.

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