Lower Taxes Would Be Great But Let's Not Call it 'Reform' Because It's Not

If you’re anything like me, the debate over the tax “reform” package has brought you to a point where each new split-screen interview with a Republican pundit you’ve never heard of saying, “Jobs!” and a Democrat strategist you’ve never heard of badmouthing “the rich” makes you contemplate cutting your own throat with an old copy of TurboTax . When Nancy Pelosi is expressing concern about deficits and the debt, you know you’ve crossed into a particularly deep region of Washington’s ocean of unreality. Nancy’s anxiety about spending beyond the government’s means is as authentic as the color of her hair.


The promises of economic glory versus the dire predictions of Armageddon only serve to set up the next battle if and when the tax package is signed into law. At that point, no matter what actually happens as a result, the holy war will continue.

Democrats and their talking heads will stretch and cook the numbers to lambaste Republicans for, say, the skyrocketing number of minority children afflicted with necrotizing fasciitis as a direct result of tax cuts for the 1%. The Republicans will proceed to take credit for any and all good economic news no matter whether there is any discernable connection to their tweaks to the tax code.

The irony of it all is that, while the massive power amassed in Washington is only rivaled by the incompetence of those who wield it, politicians and bureaucrats are still frightfully obsessed with reporting and promising results. If they can’t find any to support their position, they’ll certainly make some up.


Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for cutting taxes. I’m just uncomfortable with promises of specific results from doing so. Lower taxes definitely benefit a free market economy by putting more capital into the system but we don’t really have a free market economy. The government has its hooks in everything. Like many others, I’ve been saying for some time now that the tax legislation currently being debated barely qualifies for the loosest definition of the word reform.

While favoring tax cuts, I really don’t believe that Republican projections are any less spurious than the Democrats’, apart from the general idea that low taxes are better. The economy is complex and the future is unknowable, so promising that some tweaks to the tax code cobbled together with a lot of horse trading will definitely result in specific, quantifiable benefits is just setting the left up for their next narrative.

In Washington, very few people ever change their mind on big issues like taxes—at least not with substantial bribery encouragement—so whatever happens after the tax cut won’t matter in terms of the debate. Both sides will continue to argue that everything good is because of what they did/didn’t do and everything bad is because of what the other side did/didn’t do.


The alternative to this promise of certain results is more difficult and involves what has now become a dirty word in Republican circles: principles—first principles to be more exact. While it’s unreasonable to eliminate all results-oriented language from the debate on taxes (or anything else), it is also unreasonable to not make arguments from first principles, like liberty and federalism. We get entangled in fights over which economic class will benefit most from legislation rather than whether the legislation itself adheres to our values as Americans.

There are Constitutional and moral arguments for why our system of federal taxation is flawed. None of them involve the sort of wonkery and process obsession with which we’ve been inundated. Certainly, we may end up with a tax code objectively better to some small degree than what we had before. The problem is that the process and debate through which we achieved it is a tacit endorsement of the ideas that the government’s role is to pick winners and losers and that some people have more of a right to keep their own money than others do.

There is no real “reform” of the tax code without significantly pruning the inordinate power and extra-Constitutional spending of the federal government. The obsession with process that we’re witnessing now seems almost to be contrived to avoid the ugly truth that neither Democrats nor Republicans want to enact real reform.



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