A Flat Tax to Restore Prosperity

Op Ed by Chris Edwards

The economy is struggling, millions of people are unemployed, and family incomes are stagnant. Meanwhile, American businesses face rising competition in world markets, yet the federal government keeps heaping more piles of taxes and regulations on them. There are a lot of reforms needed in Washington, but scrapping the current tax code is high on the list. The federal income tax system is a disgrace. It's 71,000 pages of complex and anti-competitive rules riddled with special interest giveaways. Our high income tax rates penalize the most productive people in society and encourage businesses to move their investments abroad. These days, car companies can find lower tax rates in Canada and computer chip companies can find lower tax rates in China. That makes no economic sense. America desperately needs tax reform, and the best idea I've seen is a low-rate "flat tax" on individuals and businesses. The academics have  studied the flat tax, and it's been road-tested in more than two dozen countries. A flat tax would make the economy boom-not just as a short-term stimulus, but as a long term way to improve U.S. living standards.


 

What Is a Flat Tax?               

A flat tax generally means a tax on individuals with a single statutory rate. The flat tax concept also embodies the ideas that special tax preferences should be abolished and people should be treated equally. The ideal flat tax structure was introduced in the 1980s by Robert Hall and Alvin Rabushka of the Hoover Institution. The Hall-Rabushka flat tax was championed in the 1990s by House majority leader Dick Armey and presidential candidate Steve Forbes. The flat tax has three key features:

  • Single Flat Rate. The flat tax has a single rate above a large basic exemption. That would treat people equally, encourage productive activities, discourage tax avoidance, and spur domestic investment.


     

  • Elimination of Special Preferences. The flat tax eliminates tax provisions that create narrow advantages for certain people and industries. That would promote economic growth by allowing resources to flow to the highest-valued uses. It would also simplify the tax code and reduce political corruption.


     

  • Pro-Growth Treatment of Savings and Investment. A flat tax would tax each source of income just once. By contrast, under the current income tax, some income is not taxed and other income—such as income from savings


    and investment—is taxed multiple times.

Hall and Rabushka set the flat tax rate on individuals and business at 19 percent, while Forbes and Armey set it at 17 percent. The flat tax adopts Roth IRA treatment for all personal savings—wages would be taxed when earned, but all after-tax earnings that were saved would accumulate tax-free. Large and small businesses would file the same simple tax return and pay the same flat rate on a simple cash measure of earnings.

The flat tax is not just a simple version of the current income tax. It is a consumption-based tax system because it uniformly removes a layer of taxation from saving and investment. For businesses, it allows an immediate and full deduction for all new investments in factories and equipment, which would be a huge boon to the economy.

A flat tax would be much simpler than the current income tax. For families, vast amounts of paperwork for special deductions and credits would be eliminated. For businesses, the flat tax would end some of the most complex parts of the tax code, such as depreciation deductions.

A flat tax would dramatically reduce marginal tax rates. Despite what liberal politicians often say, reduced tax rates are critical to maximizing economic growth. Most other countries have learned this lesson. The U.S. corporate tax rate—including the average state rate—is 40 percent, and the last time it was cut was way back in 1986. But since that year, the average rate in the 30 major industrial nations has plunged from 47 percent to just 26 percent today.

The top personal income tax rate in the 30 industrial nations plunged from 52 percent in 1990 to 42 percent in 2009. With state taxes, the top U.S. rate is also about 42 percent today. However, the federal rate is expected to be hiked next year, so our total top rate will be about 47 percent—substantially higher than the average of our trading partners. It’s absurd that politicians are putting our economy into such an uncompetitive position—America ought to have the best tax system in the world, not one of the worst.

 

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Flat Taxes around the World                

Hall and Rabushka set the flat tax rate on individuals and business at 19 percent, while Forbes and Armey set it at 17 percent. The flat tax adopts Roth IRA treatment for all personal savings—wages would be taxed when earned, but all after-tax earnings that were saved would accumulate tax-free. Large and small businesses would file the same simple tax return and pay the same flat rate on a simple cash measure of earnings.

The flat tax is not just a simple version of the current income tax. It is a consumption-based tax system because it uniformly removes a layer of taxation from saving and investment. For businesses, it allows an immediate and full deduction for all new investments in factories and equipment, which would be a huge boon to the economy.

A flat tax would be much simpler than the current income tax. For families, vast amounts of paperwork for special deductions and credits would be eliminated. For businesses, the flat tax would end some of the most complex parts of the tax code, such as depreciation deductions.

A flat tax would dramatically reduce marginal tax rates. Despite what liberal politicians often say, reduced tax rates are critical to maximizing economic growth. Most other countries have learned this lesson. The U.S. corporate tax rate—including the average state rate—is 40 percent, and the last time it was cut was way back in 1986. But since that year, the average rate in the 30 major industrial nations has plunged from 47 percent to just 26 percent today.

The top personal income tax rate in the 30 industrial nations plunged from 52 percent in 1990 to 42 percent in 2009. With state taxes, the top U.S. rate is also about 42 percent today. However, the federal rate is expected to be hiked next year, so our total top rate will be about 47 percent—substantially higher than the average of our trading partners. It’s absurd that politicians are putting our economy into such an uncompetitive position—America ought to have the best tax system in the world, not one of the worst.

Hong Kong, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, for example, do not tax capital gains. Slovakia applies just a single layer of taxation to corporate dividends at 19 percent, and Latvia exempts domestic dividends from individual taxation. In nearly all flat tax countries, the tax treatment of savings and investment is much superior to the treatment under the U.S. income tax.

 

The Past and Future of Flat Taxes                  

A lot of supposed experts used to argue that flat taxes were an interesting idea, but not practical in the real world. Hong Kong has had a flat tax since 1947, but that was considered to be a special case because of that jurisdiction’s colonial status. Jamaica has had a flat tax since 1986, but it was overlooked because it is a developing nation.

The ball really started rolling when the Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania adopted flat tax systems in the 1990s. Estonia had the break-through reform with the introduction of a 26 percent flat tax in 1994. Prime Minister Mart Laar was wondering how to rescue the floundering Estonian economy and recalled reading that economist Milton Friedman had advocated a flat tax. He introduced Estonia’s flat tax as part of his broad reform agenda.

Estonia’s dramatic tax reform made its Baltic neighbors, Latvia and Lithuania, take notice. Those countries quickly adopted their own flat taxes. While all three Baltic nations initially introduced flat taxes with fairly high rates, those rates have been cut over time.

The next step in the flat tax revolution was Russia; it adopted a 13 percent flat tax in 2001. Russia also cut its corporate tax rate. Decades of class warfare went out the window and equal tax treatment for all was introduced. Russia’s tax revenue began rising after the introduction of the flat tax as tax evasion fell and the economy boomed.

In 2004, Slovakia joined the flat tax club with a 19 percent tax that was quite close to the flat tax ideal. The flat tax in Slovakia has been a big success, and the country has attracted large inflows of foreign investment. Slovakia’s reform played a key role in the subsequent decisions to adopt flat taxes in Romania, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic.

The nations that emerged from communism’s collapse are leaders in the flat tax revolution. After enduring decades of socialist policies, they apparently have little sympathy for tax systems based on class warfare. They want equal treatment, and that is the goal of the flat tax.

Another selling point of the flat tax is that it has spurred much greater tax compliance in some countries where black markets and tax evasion had been major issues. Under a low-rate flat tax, there is much less incentive to hide income from the tax authorities.

While there are still skeptics, every nation but Iceland that has adopted a flat tax has kept it. A number of flat tax countries were hit hard by the global recession of recent years, but the pro-growth tax systems they have in place should help these countries rebound quickly. It’s possible that some countries will undo their flat tax reforms in the future, but the durability of flat taxes so far is a testament to how well they work in practice.

Looking ahead, the big question is whether the flat tax can cross from the former communist world into Western Europe and North America. These higher-income nations would gain all the same benefits from the flat tax—stronger economic growth, lower tax avoidance, and fewer headaches for families and businesses from tax code compliance.

Maybe Americans weren’t ready for the flat tax when Steve Forbes ran with the idea in his presidential campaigns. But now that people are living through the nightmares of big tax increases in 2011, a supersized federal government under Obama, and a terrible private job market, they might embrace the candidate who grabs the flat tax torch in 2012.


Chris Edwards is director of tax policy studies at the Cato Institute and manager of www.downsizinggovernment.org.

 



<< Return to the September 2010

Legal scholar and famed criminal defense attorney Alan Dershowitz has a message for partisans dividing America: "A plague on both your houses." He voted for Hillary Clinton. He endorsed Joe Biden. He's a man who is basically the Forrest Gump of American judicial history.

Look up a big court case over the past few decades, and you'll probably see him standing in the background. He's represented notorious clients like Mike Tyson, Patty Hearst, Harry Reems, Harvey Weinstein, Jeffrey Epstein, and yes, Donald Trump. It's made him a target for both the left and right.

Alan also describes himself as a "civil libertarian," and that's probably why he and Glenn Beck get along despite their opposing political views. His story is like a history lesson, spanning half a century, and it just might be the key to bridging the political divide.

On this week's podcast, Alan explained that while he's a strong defender of the Constitution, he's never been a big fan of the Second Amendment. In the past he's called it absurd and outdated, and even today, he admits that he wouldn't have ingrained it into our Constitution if he was a framer. However, with the whole Bill of Rights under attack, he's now fully in defense of our right to bear arms. Because if the Second Amendment changes, any amendment could be next.

"I'm now a supporter of the Second Amendment. I don't want to change it. I don't want to change one word of it, because I'm afraid that if I get to change the Second Amendment, other people will get to change the First Amendment, and the Fifth Amendment," Alan said. "So, I am committed to preserving the Bill of Rights, every single word, every comma, and every space between the words."

Watch a clip from the full interview with Alan Dershowitz below:

Watch the full podcast below, on Glenn's YouTube channel, or on Blaze Media's podcast network.

Want to listen to more Glenn Beck podcasts?

Subscribe to Glenn Beck's channel on YouTube for FREE access to more of his masterful storytelling, thought-provoking analysis and uncanny ability to make sense of the chaos, or subscribe to BlazeTV — the largest multi-platform network of voices who love America, defend the Constitution and live the American dream.

Investigative reporter David Steinberg joined the radio program Monday, to explain how a new video may provide enough evidence to begin a FBI investigation into alleged illegal practices by Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar's campaign.

In the video, which was produced and released by Project Veritas, residents of Omar's community describe campaign teams that not only conduct illegal ballot harvesting practices but also pay people for their blank absentee ballots.

Steinberg told Glenn that, if these charges prove to be true, the federal government could bypass Omar's friend and protector, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison. Could 2020 be the beginning of the end for Omar's political career?

Watch the video below to catch Glenn's conversation with David Steinberg:

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Mike Fratantuono is the manager of Sunset Restaurant in Glen Burnie, Maryland. He wrote in the Washington Post's COVID-19 series about the recent, heartbreaking loss of his business, a restaurant that has been in his family for "four generations and counting."

"I know this virus is real, okay? It's real and it's awful. I'm not disputing any of that," Mike wrote. "But our national hysteria is worse. We allowed the virus to take over our economy, our small businesses, our schools, our social lives, our whole quality of life. We surrendered, and now everything is infected."

On the radio program Monday, Glenn Beck reacted to Mike's letter, which he shared in full, adding his hope that those in government are ultimately held responsible for what he called the biggest theft of the Western world.

"This is the biggest theft of, not only money, but of heritage and of hope," Glenn said. "The United States government and many of the states are responsible for this, not you. And hopefully someday soon, we'll return to some semblance of sanity, and those responsible for this theft, this rape of the Western world, will be held responsible."

Watch the video below for more details:

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To enjoy more of Glenn's masterful storytelling, thought-provoking analysis and uncanny ability to make sense of the chaos, subscribe to BlazeTV — the largest multi-platform network of voices who love America, defend the Constitution and live the American dream.

We did our homework over the weekend; we did the research so we can tell you what is likely coming from Senate Democrats regarding President Trump's Supreme Court Nominee Amy Coney Barrett. Based on our research and the anonymous people who have already come forward to talk about Coney Barrett's youth, these are the main shocking things you can expect Senate Democrats to seize on during the confirmation process…

A man has come forward under the banner of "#MenToo," to say that in second grade, Amy Coney Barrett and her best friend at the time, cornered him at a birthday party at Chuck-E-Cheese and "injected him with a full dose of cooties." Which, if true, would obviously be disqualifying for serving on the highest court in the land.

Then there's a woman who says when she was nine-years-old, she lived on the same street as Amy Coney Barrett. She alleges that Coney-Barrett borrowed her VHS tape of Herbie Goes Bananas and did not return it for at least six months. And then when she did finally get the tape back, the woman says Coney Barrett did not even bother to rewind it. The FBI has interviewed at least two witnesses so far who say the tape was indeed not rewound and that it was very upsetting to the owner of the tape. Again, if true, this is troubling – clearly not the kind of integrity you want to see in a Supreme Court justice.

Apparently, in their elementary school days, they liked to drink milk – and lots of it.

The same neighbor also dropped a bombshell allegation about the drinking problem of Amy Coney Barrett and her closest friends. Apparently, in their elementary school days, they liked to drink milk – and lots of it. The neighbor says she "frequently" witnessed Coney-Barrett and her friends chugging entire cartons of milk – often Whole Milk, sometimes Chocolate Milk, occasionally both at the same time through a funnel.

Unfortunately, shooting-up cooties, injurious rewinding, and potential calcium-abuse are not even the worst of it.

A third person has now come forward, another man, and this is just reprehensible, it's hard to even fathom. But he alleges that in fourth grade, when they were around ten-years-old, Amy Coney Barrett and a group of "four or five of her friends" gang-GRAPED him on the playground during recess. He alleges the group of friends snuck uneaten grapes out of the cafeteria and gang-GRAPED him repeatedly in broad daylight. In other words, and I hate to have to spell this out because it's kind of graphic, but the group led by ten-year-old Amy Coney Barrett pelted this poor defenseless boy with whole grapes. He recalls them "laughing the whole time" as they were gang-GRAPING him.

He recalls them "laughing the whole time" as they were gang-GRAPING him.

Obviously, even if just one of these allegations is half-true, no Senator with a conscience could possibly vote to confirm Coney Barrett. When there is a clear pattern of destructive childhood behavior, it always continues into adulthood. Because people do not change. Ever.

Fortunately, for the sake of the Republic, Democrats plan to subpoena Coney Barrett's childhood diary, to see what, if any, insights it may provide into her calcium habits, as well as her abuse of illicit cooties and the gang-GRAPING incident.

We will keep you posted on the latest, but for now, it looks like Democrats will find plenty in the reckless pre-teen life of Amy Coney Barrett to cast doubt on her nomination. And if not, they can always fall back on her deranged preference for letting babies be born.

[NOTE: The preceding was a parody written by MRA writer Nathan Nipper.]