Since then, I’ve read 100 Million Unnecessary Returns: A Simple, Fair, and Competitive Tax Plan for the
The book is full of interesting facts and arguments. (For a summary of his plan, go to http://www.iasworldtrade.com/Graetz_Memo.htm and http://www.iasworldtrade.com/Graetz_Chart.htm.) I’d like to highlight just two that seem highly relevant in view of the promises being bandied about in the current presidential campaign.
On the one hand, Graetz – who served in the Treasury Department under Bush 41 -- argues forcefully that a good tax system produces enough revenue to fund the government in normal times. He rightly abhors chronic deficit spending, deriding it as “catnip to politicians” and unfair to future generations who will get stuck with the unpaid bills. He’s not a tax and spend anything. On the contrary, he seeks real fiscal discipline. However, he recognizes that the government has made promises that, under the current system, it cannot keep. So, a combination of sustained fiscal restraint and realistic revenues are needed to lift the burgeoning burden of debt from the pocketbooks of the younger generations while keeping the word of a government to its people.
On the other hand, he attacks “targeted tax cuts” as a needless complication of the tax system that often produces a hodgepodge of incentives rather than a clear-cut policy. He aptly cites health care as an example. Businesses and individuals get a variety of tax incentives to behave one way or another. Yet we have a health care crisis marked by high costs, a mass of uninsured Americans, disgruntled doctors, and competitively disadvantaged businesses. This is a lousy way to make policy, and the national interest easily gets lost in a welter of special deals for targeted groups.
“The kind of comprehensive reform our tax system clearly needs,” writes Graetz, “will require politicians from both parties to put the national interest ahead of the short-run advantage of any particular segment of their supporters.” That’s pretty ambitious. But our system is unfair, costly and inefficient, complex to the point of bewilderment, ineffective as a public policy tool, and poisonous to our performance in international trade. With the AMT fix apparently unfundable and the expiration of the Bush tax cuts looming large for 2010, now is the time to aim high.