Good laws and legal systems are simple and transparent; people readily can know the law, follow the law, and watch how elected officials propose to tamper with the law. By contrast, the mess that is our current tax system creates a grotesque scene where lobbyists and elected officials can cut marginal deals in the tax code without the public having much real opportunity to weigh in. The deals only add to campaign coffers and taxpayers' burdens. The system must be simplified.Steve discusses the two major camps on this issue: the flat tax (see my previous post) and the fair tax initiatives. The defining difference between the systems is that the flat tax is an income tax on both personal and corporate income (17%), while the fair tax is a national sales tax (23%) that is collected at the final point of sale on goods and services.
I see pros and cons to both systems. However, I see the following problems with the fair tax initiative.
- It is highly regressive up front. The poorest people would be hardest hit at the point of sale and would be forced to file for a refund proving their poverty after the government has held their sorely needed money for up to a year. Many poverty level people that are due a refund under today's system fail to file. I doubt it would be any different under the new system.
- A national sales tax would distort the market costs of goods and services. If you bought a home for $180,000 your end price would be $221,400 with a 23% sales tax. Imagine what that would do to the real estate market. A $20,000 car would cost $24,600. Ouch!
- History shows that it is easier to pass a sales tax increase than an income tax increase. How many of us fall for the “It will only cost you one tenth of a cent more on every dollar spent” argument time after time.
- As has been demonstrated in other countries, it would spawn a new black market system and a new national sales tax collection bureaucracy. At least the flat tax would leverage its collection system from the current system where we already have sunk costs.