Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Flat Tax Is Not Flat and the FairTax Is Not Fair

Here's my response to Federalistvisions. Listen to Laurence M. Vance speech on The Flat Tax Is Not Flat and the FairTax is not Fair. It is in Audio so everyone can listen to it instead of spending time reading the article. CLICK HERE.

Be sure to join the debate, link is in the side bar.

Subject: [Hello Michigan] New comment on Interesting Comments on The Fair Tax Article.

Federalistvisions has left a new comment on your post "Interesting Comments on The Fair Tax Article":

Let's get this straight. Rose doesn't want any government, as government runs from tax monies and she wants no tax monies? Daar wants to make the taxes take to be based upon a persons 'personal' choice of lifestyle? i.e. If you make your own shoes, or buy used ones you pay no taxes.

I think that in both cases you miss the point. The Constitution does in fact give Government, both State and Federal the right to tax.

All taxes are by design regressive. So, we seek the least regressive tax possible if we are smart.

So, what is the least regressive tax possible? That would be a tax paid by the choice of the people. The bill of rights does not preclude taxation and that is not what the courts ruled. Nor does the Constitution require taxes to be collected. What is required is a system whereby the States and Federal Government can be funded in the most 'fair' method.

I think that method has escaped us over the last 100 years as we stepped into the boundry waters of Federal vs. State Rights and the intermingling of funds. The income tax is the most regressive of all taxes. The sales tax is the least regressive of all taxes. Thus, a sales tax is the most 'fair' amoung a list of very unfair taxation sytems. Make it simple, a flat tax would be better, and let the people decide what they will buy and what they will make or grow.


Daar said...

Yes, and after you listen to demagogue Vance, listen to why these individuals SUPPORT the FairTax:

Economist, Laurence Kotlikoff. BTW, that debt figure was subsequently updated to $88 trillion (per Dallas Fed's Richard Fisher), and will go higher with more stimulus (paper money).

Former 2008 Democratic Presidential Candidate, Mike Gravel who is uniquely qualified to render an expert opinion on the matter by virtue of his 8 years of experience on the Senate Finance Committee.

Former 2008 Republican Presidential Candidate, Mike Huckabee, in a recent Fox Business News interview with David Asman.

Finally, Congressman John Linder, himself, (primary Sponsor of HR 25, the FairTax Act currently in House Ways and Means Committee; co-author of The FairTax Book). Play podcasts, below, of a radio interview that took place just this morning on the Renk program at WBCK FM, Battle Creek, MI.

Live with Renk - 10-07-09 Interview with GA Congressmen Linder about the Federal FairTax Act

Segment 1

Segment 2

Segment 3

Segment 4

Segment 5

Daar said...

Kotlikoff’s Rebuttal to Vance’s “Misconceptions” re FairTax (Part 1 of 7)

Reviewing Laurence Vance’s Book Review “There’s No Such Thing as a Fair Tax” by Laurence J. Kotlikoff
Professor of Economics, Boston University; Consultant,

December 2005

In his Ludwig von Mises Institute December 13, 2005 review of The Fair Tax Book by Neal Boortz and Congressman John Linder, Laurence Vance identifies what he believes are 3 “lies” in the book and 17 “problems” surrounding the FairTax. Being a fan of both the FairTax and Congressman Linder as well as a student of consumption taxation, I offer here a point-by-point response.

First, the alleged lies:

“Lie” #1 – “Taxes would be voluntary under the FairTax.”

Vance argues that everyone needs to buy goods and services and, therefore, everyone is, in fact, forced to pay the FairTax. This is obviously correct. But declaring that Boortz and Linder are “lying” on this point is wrong. The authors were simply saying that the public would have more discretion in the timing and amount they pay in taxes than under the current system. Today, income and payroll taxes are paid as soon as we earn money. Under the FairTax, no tax would be due until we spend what we earn.

Yes, calling the FairTax “totally voluntary,” as the authors do, is pushing literary license, but not beyond common practice. Indeed, the IRS touts the voluntary nature of our current tax system stating that “The U.S. income tax system is built on the idea of voluntary compliance. Compliance is voluntary when taxpayers declare all of their income. Taxpayers also voluntarily comply through obtaining forms and instructions, providing complete and correct information, and filing their income tax returns on time.”

No impartial reader of the book would come away thinking that the FairTax represents, in effect, the establishment of a voluntary charity for the government.

“Lie” #2 – “The FairTax rate would be 23 percent.”

Vance claims that the FairTax’s rate is really 30 percent. He’s both wrong and right at the same time. The tax-exclusive rate we’d pay at the store would, indeed, be 30 percent, but the rate that matters – the tax-inclusive rate – would be only 23 percent.

To see this, consider spending $1.00 under the FairTax on a good or service (e.g., a candy bar) whose price is 77 cents in the absence of the FairTax. In spending the $1.00, one pays 77 cents for the good or service and 23 cents (30 percent of 77 cents) in taxes. Hence, the $1.00, whether it represents a dollar of income or wealth, ends up delivering only 77 cents of consumption and, consequently, is being taxed at a 23 percent rate.

By analogy, the same can be said for the income tax. If wages of $1.00 were taxed at 23 percent, the taxpayer would have only 77 cents left to spend on consumption. Suppose we were to tax everyone’s wages at 30 percent, but also subsidize their wages at seven percent. Anyone looking at such a tax structure would say there is a 23 percent effective tax on wages.

In describing the FairTax rate as 23 percent, Boortz and Linder are quoting the rate in terms that are not only economically honest, but also permit ready and appropriate comparison with our prevailing income and payroll tax rates. Let’s assume taxable income of a sole-proprietor was $72,000, so that that taxpayer pays taxes of 28 percent plus 15.3 percent payroll taxes for a combined tax-inclusive rate of 43.3 percent. Unless Vance wants to refer to the 43.3 percent as actually a 77 percent rate, he really can’t compare that rate to the FairTax.

Vance owes the authors an apology on this one.

Daar said...

Kotlikoff’s Rebuttal to Vance’s “Misconceptions” re FairTax (Part 2 of 7)

“Lie” #3 – “The FairTax would abolish the IRS.”

Vance reiterates what the FairTax legislation states, namely that a federal agency would be required to oversee and ultimately enforce the collection of the FairTax. If one were to call this agency the IRS, the IRS would not, in fact, be abolished. But here, again, the authors are engaging in reasonable literary license in suggesting that the FairTax would abolish the IRS.

Whether or not the tax collection agency retains the initials I, R, and S, it would be completely different from the current enforcement apparatus. For starters, we’d no longer have more than 100,000 government bureaucrats enforcing 17,000 pages of federal tax law. Second, we’d no longer have to file individual income tax returns. Third, the IRS would no longer be in a position to know virtually every detail of our financial affairs. Fourth, tens of thousand of accountants, tax attorneys, and lobbyists would no longer spend their working lives trying to decipher, comply with, modify, and avoid tax laws and IRS regulations.

So the FairTax would abolish the IRS for all practical purposes. And, more importantly, the nation would save $250 billion plus in direct compliance costs and an even larger sum in efficiency costs from eliminating the current federal tax system. Yes, the FairTax would entail collection and efficiency costs, but much lower ones. State governments, most of whom are already collecting and administering their own state sales taxes, would be charge and compensated for collecting the FairTax.

“Problem” #1 – “The FairTax hides the amount of tax being paid.”

Vance claims that the FairTax hides the amount of sales tax being paid. Not so. The receipts one would receive in making purchases would clearly indicate the price of the commodity purchased as well as the amount of FairTax imposed on that commodity. In my $1.00 expenditure example, the receipt would say Snicker’s Bar 77 cents and Tax 23 cents.

In contrast to the FairTax, the current tax system makes it very hard to understand the extent to which we’re being taxed. The current tax system constitutes not one tax system, but four – the payroll tax, the federal personal income tax, the corporate income tax, and the estate and gift tax. The later three tax systems are extremely complex. Even the payroll tax is very hard for most workers to appreciate. How many workers, for example, understand that they are, in fact, paying the employer as well as employee portions of the 15.3 percent FICA tax?

The complexity of our tax system makes it extremely difficult for any of us to understand the full extent to which we are taxed on working and saving. The need, in the end, to guess what incentives we’re facing further distorts economic choices. The costs of these distortions are significant. Indeed, they may far exceed the roughly 2 percent of GDP direct costs of complying with the current tax system.

Thus, Vance has the issue of hidden taxes completely backwards. The FairTax is the most transparent of any tax system. The current tax system, in contrast, is specifically designed to and thrives on hiding its provisions.

Daar said...

Kotlikoff’s Rebuttal to Vance’s “Misconceptions” re FairTax (Part 3 of 7)

“Problem” #2 – “The FairTax is progressive.”

Leaving aside the rebate, the public generally views sales taxes as regressive. They reach this conclusion by comparing sales tax payments with current income. Since someone with zero current income still has to buy food to eat, the ratio of that person’s sales tax payments to his current income is infinite. In contrast, the ratio of sales taxes paid to income in the case of someone with a $1 million in current income is much smaller. So the “poor” person with zero income is paying a much larger share of his current income than is the rich person in sales taxes.

The problem with this analysis is that people don’t pay for their consumption simply out of their current income. (If they did the person with zero current income would starve.) People also pay for their consumption out of their private wealth and out of the welfare benefits, Social Security benefits, unemployment benefits, and other government transfers provided by the government. Indeed, the “poor” person just mentioned might well be billionaire Warren Buffet. How so? Well Warren’s current annual income could be zero because he’s experienced capital losses on his investments during the current year. This wouldn’t prevent him from using his billions in assets to pay for steak dinners over the course of the year in his favorite Omaha restaurant.

Rather than consider progressivity on an annual basis, economists consider progressivity on a lifetime basis by comparing the present value of remaining lifetime tax payments to the present value of remaining lifetime resources. Remaining lifetime resources includes the present values of future labor earnings and government transfer payments as well as the amount of current net financial and tangible wealth.

From a lifetime perspective, a sales tax (with no rebate) is viewed as neither progressive nor regressive, but rather as proportional. The reason is that the present value of a household’s remaining lifetime spending must equal the present value of its remaining lifetime resources. If it didn’t, the household would be able to spend more over its lifetime than it earns.

Because spending equals resources on a present value basis, taxing spending is equivalent to taxing resources. And doing so at a proportional (fixed) rate means you are taxing resources as a proportional rate. This is what the FairTax does. But the FairTax adds in a rebate, making it not proportional, but progressive overall.

So Vance is right. The FairTax is progressive. But this is a plus, not a minus. Unlike Vance, the vast majority of Americans, including the vast majority of the rich, favor a progressive tax system.

“Problem” #3 – “The FairTax is an income redistribution scheme.”

Under the FairTax households with the same demographics will receive the same rebate. But as a share of remaining lifetime resources, the FairTax is progressive, as indicated above. But this is not a problem. Any tax system acceptable to the public must be progressive.

Daar said...

Kotlikoff’s Rebuttal to Vance’s “Misconceptions” re FairTax (Part 4 of 7)

“Problem” #4 – “The FairTax creates new tax collectors.”

Totally incorrect. Today, everyone who files an income tax return, more than 200 million taxpayers, is a tax collector. The number of taxpayers will diminish by more than 90 percent. And they will be the same tax collectors as today. In one fell swoop, the FairTax reduces the number of taxpayers at the same time it vests everyone in the tax system, by making the price of government explicit. Here Vance argues that baby sitters and similar providers of personalized services would need to collect the FairTax and mail it into the government. This is true, but it’s no different under the current system. Anyone who is self employed is required to pay self-employment tax as well as federal income tax above a certain level of income.

Although the baby sitter will go from being a “taxpayer” to being a “tax collector,” nothing real will change. Apart from the change in words, the baby sitter is in the same position of having to mail a check to the government.

“Problem” #5 – “The FairTax creates new taxes.”

Wrong. Today, we tax returns on capital, we tax sales of capital assets, we tax labor earnings, we tax estates, and we tax gifts. All of these taxes are eliminated by the taxation of the final retail sale.

Yes, currently, there are no federal taxes directly levied on the purchase of most final goods and services. But at the same time the FairTax would institute these direct taxes, it would also eliminate direct taxation of the labor and capital income received by American taxpayers. Hence, the FairTax destroys old taxes at the same time it establishes new ones. Depending on how one quantifies labor supply and saving, the FairTax could be said to reduce, on balance, the number of taxes. In any case, counting up the number of distinct taxes seems like a silly and inherently arbitrary way to evaluate the FairTax. The important point is not the number of things being taxed, but the number of rates used to tax those things. Under the FairTax all goods and services will be taxed at one and only one rate – 23 percent.

“Problem” #6 – “The FairTax creates new taxpayers.”

I sure hope so. I hope the 40 percent or so of Americans who pay no income tax today have to pay the FairTax and see that they too are vested in our government. I hope that criminals who have illegally amassed wealth in the past will pay lots of sales taxes when they spend these holdings.

What about churches and other non-profits? Their tax treatment is as it is today. They’ll pay no taxes on their income, and charge no FairTax when those sales are substantially related to their exempt function. On the other hand, if they sell consumer goods or services, they’ll have to charge and remit the FairTax on these sales.

Plus, individuals will be able to donate to their church or favorite charity tax-free.

Daar said...

Kotlikoff’s Rebuttal to Vance’s “Misconceptions” re FairTax (Part 5 of 7)

“Problem” #7 – “The FairTax makes it easier for the government to raise taxes.”

Quite the opposite. Politically, if there is only one tax rate that everyone needs to think about and keep track of, there will be lots of interest in that one rate as well as opposition to raising it. One key objection to the FairTax is that it is too visible, meaning that it exposes the true costs of the government. This is at the same time its major strength and weakness. Exposing the true cost of the government ensures downward pressure on the size of government. But doing so makes politicians who like to hide taxes wary. Moreover, as the public digs in its heels on raising the single rate, as I suspect it would, federal expenditures would have to be restrained to live within the 23 percent rate budget. I.e., the 23 percent FairTax rate has the potential of establishing a global budget for federal expenditures, something that should be wholeheartedly supported by Vance.

Vance suggests that the rate would have to rise over time to adjust for growth in the economy. This is (excuse the pun) off base in that the FairTax tax base will itself rise with growth in the economy. Hence, revenues will keep pace with overall economy-wide growth without requiring a rise in the tax rate.

The major point he also misses is that the FairTax is global tax reform. When the U.S. is the only industrialized country in the world with a zero rate of tax on savings and investment and productive enterprise, other nations will have to follow suit or lose their citizens’ investments to the U.S.

“Problem” #8 – “The FairTax makes it easier for state governments to raise taxes.”

The states may adopt the FairTax’s broader sales tax base, but would likely cut their rates in so doing. What Vance ignores is the competition across states in attracting business and workers. This competition explains why state tax rates are relative low and are likely to remain low.

“Problem” #9 – “The FairTax has unknown and potentially huge Transition costs.”

Saying so doesn’t make it so. There is no reason to expect significant transaction costs. The inventory transition valuation issue raised by Vance can readily be sorted out.

“Problem” #10 – “The FairTax makes exceptions while claiming to have none.”

Totally incorrect. Unlike today, where the tax code is used as an effective second appropriation committee, the FairTax taxes every form of consumption expenditure that can readily be taxed without exception. The FairTax exempts educational expenditures, but educational expenditures are viewed by economists as a form of human capital investment, not a form of consumption.

Daar said...

Kotlikoff’s Rebuttal to Vance’s “Misconceptions” re FairTax (Part 6 of 7)

“Problem” #11 – “The FairTax has a great potential for fraud.”

This is the major concern about the FairTax raised by economists and tax practitioners, but it is not based on rigorous analysis. There is every reason to believe the FairTax would reduce noncompliance from its current $300 billion level.

First, much of the $300 billion stems not from fraud, or the intentional violation of a known legal duty, but rather from mistake. The FairTax eliminates virtually all potential for innocent mistakes, and it makes it much more difficult to claim that noncompliance arises from mistakes; i.e., the simplicity of the FairTax removes the plausible deniability of fraud.

Second, the vast majority of sales of consumer goods and services and all of the sales of expensive consume goods and services is done in retail stores, whose sales tax payments could readily be monitored. As for the other transactions, we’d have the entire IRS or, whatever you’d want to call it, available to enforce this single tax. By setting very high penalties and using ad campaigns to indicate that cheating on the sales tax hurts everyone, collecting the FairTax should be straightforward.

Third, the FairTax reduces the effects of all known factors on fraud. The three factors that economists have shown to affect compliance are marginal rates, likelihood of being caught, and penalties. The FairTax enhances all three:

1) The FairTax imposes much lower average taxes on working-age households than does the current system. The FairTax’s reduction in average tax rates on the working age population reflects the broadening of the tax base from what is now primarily a system of labor income taxation to a system that taxes, albeit indirectly, both labor income and existing wealth. Consider, as an example, a single household earning $50,000. The household’s average tax rate under the current system is 21.1 percent. It’s 16.2 percent under the FairTax.”

2) The likelihood of being caught increases dramatically when the collection points decrease from 140 million to 20 or so million.

3) The FairTax imposes significant penalties on those who would commit tax fraud.

“Problem” #12 – “The FairTax will turn thousands of Americans into criminals for not collecting the tax.”

Thousands, if not millions, of Americans now cheat on their income taxes. And we have more than 150 tax penalties, several of which are criminal today. But we do perform audits and fine people for not paying. The same would occur under the FairTax. People who cheat would get caught and pay penalties. However, the FairTax has several provisions enhancing taxpayer rights.

“Problem” #13 – “The FairTax does not repeal the 16th Amendment.”

The FairTax cannot repeal the 16th Amendment, which has to be done in a separate piece of legislation. So, Vance’s point is that we must live with the income tax? Not so. The FairTax does repeal Subchapters A and C of the 1986 Internal Revenue Code that implement the income tax. Vance’s concern here is that the income tax will be restored and that we’ll end up with both the income tax and the FairTax. But if the popularity of the FairTax will, I believe, preclude that from ever happening.

“Problem” #14 – “The FairTax doesn’t repeal federal excise taxes.”

True. But not a problem. We want to retain some flexibility to tax goods, like cigarettes, the consumption of which can impose significant costs on society at-large, at higher rates. These taxes serve a different purpose than general revenues. They are in effect taxes on externalities.

Daar said...

Kotlikoff’s Rebuttal to Vance’s “Misconceptions” re FairTax (Part 7 of 7)

“Problem” #15 – “The FairTax doesn’t lower taxes.”

Wrong. The FairTax dramatically lowers marginal rates and completely eliminates the double taxation on returns to savings and investment. And over time, the FairTax will stimulate growth and permit much lower rates of taxation than would otherwise be the case.

“Problem” #16 – “The FairTax doesn’t address the root problem that the government has no fundamental right and should have no power to tax us.”

The government has the rights we the people have given it through the Constitution. This, again, is a Vance problem, not an American problem, but he should read the Tenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, which is part of the Bill of Rights. It states: The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people. If Vance wants to strike that Amendment, he has a long way to go.

Problem # 17 – “The FairTax makes welfare universal through the prebate.”

Wrong. The FairTax simply declines to tax Americans before they have met their own sustenance in life. Nobody is taxed on the necessities of life under the plan. And nobody is required to pay for the cost of the government until they have met their own needs. I don’t consider that welfare.

[Thanks to Roger Buchholtz for providinng this. -DF]

Rose said...

Daar, you continue to miss the point and refuse to address it head on.

The Michigan Fair Tax or the National Fair Tax does not address the issue of The We The People's formal Petition for Redress that has gone unanswered.

What is the definition of INCOME and WHO it applies to?

All your promoting is that we let the Corporations of the hook and transfer the burden of taxes on the people in direct VIOLATION of both our State and Federal Constitution.

As for your experts, they only have credibility in your eyes and you still didn't, or they didn't address the fact it is still a transfer of wealth.

Your rebuttal here isn't to the speech that this post was about, it is to a much older article, Laurence Vance’s Book Review “There’s No Such Thing as a Fair Tax”

But that's not unusual for you to compare apples to oranges when you know you don't have any facts to back up what you are trying to sell. Only promises, and how many times have we heard these same promises only to find out after the fact we were fed a bunch of lies. EVERY TIME.

Now, you can believe these politicians if you want to, but not one of your experts passes the smell test for me.

Daar said...


I understand the issues surrounding the current income tax system. Enactment of the FairTax would replace that corrupt system, thereby making many of your (correct) points, moot.

Now, I realize that there exists a "bone to pick" on the injustices perpetrated under the current system, giving rise to the sought-after redress of grievance. However, I think it best to spend my time and energies moving the country away from the presently-unjust tax system to a tax system that IS truly fair.

Susan said...

Excuse me Daar, you said "Under the Fair Tax all goods and services will be taxed at one and only one rate – 23 percent." This is not true. Houses, automobiles and gas for those automobiles will be taxed at a different rate than other consumer goods.