TheSophist’s recent diary on Herman Cain’s “9-9-9 Plan” for reforming the tax code showcased a lot of great arguments made by those both for and against the plan. It is clear from reading the diary and the comments that this is a vital conversation to have, and the kind of discussion this forum was founded to promote. I happen to come down against 9-9-9, for a number of reasons, but I won’t attempt to replicate all the arguments carried out above.
However, I do have to take issue with something that TheSophist said, as I haven’t seen anyone challenge it.
I haven’t heard a serious critique of the 999 Plan from the Right on the merits of the idea. For example, no one on the Right thus far has criticized 999 Plan for being regressive taxation on its face. I haven’t heard anyone critique it because it fails to combat the growing gap between the rich and the poor. Those are Leftist ideas after all.
Certainly the latter argument against income disparity is a Leftist one, but the former? Not on your life. I would just like to state for the record that I find the idea of regressive taxation to be a fundamentally immoral and unconservative one. I don’t think that is an inherently Leftist idea. Indeed, I believe that a tax which falls most heavily on the poor is profoundly unconservative, as it attacks the basic concept of fairness and equality under law on which our society and our Constitution is founded. Just as a system of taxation that disproportionately punishes success and ingenuity is unjust, just as today’s skyrocketing inflation, which falls hardest on those least able to sway with the economic winds, is a national shame and a human tragedy, a national sales tax of any sort is unjust and unconservative because of its unequal impact on our fellow citizens.
Furthermore, such a radical (yes, radical) overhaul of the tax code would be in direct contradiction to the conservative principles of prudence and of moderating Man’s impulse to wildly innovate. We are being asked to throw out our entire tax code, the result of over 80 years of gradual additions and change, and replace it with a wholly untested scheme. No one can say what effect the 9-9-9 plan would have on our economy, because a program of this type and scope has never been attempted on a nation as vast and diverse as our own. The only social engineering plans to rival it have been the New Deal, the Great Society, and Obamacare, and those are no examples for conservatives to follow. The results of 9-9-9 could be wonderful, or mediocre, or terrible. We simply have no way of knowing, because its effects on our economy and our government remain at this point purely conjectural, the subject of theory and academic debate. I’m surprised that Herman Cain, a man who rightfully garnered a lot of praise for pointing to the real world-tested, data-supported Chilean Model for Social Security reform, would put his name to a plan that is neither.
I recognize that the current system has a great many flaws, and is in profound need of overhaul. I recognize at well that the poor do suffer under our tax system, perhaps more than they would under 9-9-9. I’m not arguing that nothing be done. Reform is needed now. However, the argument of “Well, at least we’re still screwing the poor less than under the current system,” is unworthy of the Conservative Movement. We should not be in the business of replacing one kind of injustice with another.
TheSophist, you are right that we shouldn’t shy away from bold plans. You are right that we can no longer abide by “Washington insider wisdom”, though prudence reminds us that neither should we let the perfect be the enemy of the good, nor discard the knowledge and skills of those long-versed in the rules of the System. Certainly we cheer every time the GOP employs some obscure parliamentary tactic to derail or delay a Democrat initiative. But I digress.
At the end of the day, we should not buy into the notion that the only way to reform our tax code is to employ a plan as radical in its nature, though certainly not in its goals, as the Obamacare legislation we are desperately fighting to repeal. We should not believe that our only hope for true reform rests on elevating One Man to the Office of the President of the United States. We should not settle for “hurting the poor less, at least for now”, when we have the opportunity bring a tax and budget scheme to the American people that preserves our party’s and our nation’s commitment to economic liberty and true equality of opportunity and fairness under the law.
Our battle standard should be a Balanced Budget Amendment, passed in conjunction with either a flat-rate income tax, or at least a greatly reduced and simplified, albeit progressively-indexed, income and corporate tax code. Like the Chilean Model for SS Reform, these systems have been tested around the globe and proven to drive economic growth while molding the tax code into a shape that is fairer and more equal. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel, nor should we. We’re conservatives. Contra John Stuart Mills, we do things the smart way. The right way. The American way.
If you’ve read this whole thing, thanks for sticking with me. Either way, have at it, boys and girls.