In the name of “politics,” National Review Online’s editorial on the FairTax has turned the Founding Father’s promise of a government “of, by and for the people” on its head in surrendering the tax code to the presumed inevitability of control by an army of tax lobbyists. This is, of course, the current view from inside the Beltway and reveals a common but nonetheless unacceptably imperious perspective.
The “political impracticality” of fundamental change in our tax system denies, as do many in Washington, any effect at all on politics by the growing popularity of the FairTax proposal with Republicans, Democrats, Independents, and all those many people who have recently joined our campaign who have long ago given up on any political party — precisely because they had lost faith that the public could actually drive public policy.
It was also said in the past that Medicare legislation could not get past the “political reality” of the power of the AMA and that the Catastrophic Care Act would never be repealed given the strong interest of Danny Rostenkowski and Lloyd Bentsen and that a bipartisan effort would surely see immigration reform be enacted by Congress. In each case, public opinion changed the course of events those in Washington, D.C., believed they controlled. The almost universally despised income-tax system is commonly described by most citizens as unfair and indecipherable and by most economists as damaging the national interests. It, and those who continue it, have now become, through the FairTax campaign, richly deserving targets of citizen wrath.
To argue that a sales tax might be more intrusive than a system that requires $265 billion a year in compliance costs alone and that requires that every penny spent, saved, or earned be reported to our federal government is as sad and mistaken as the notion put forward in this piece that the governed have so little effect on their government.
The public is yearning, in fact, for “big” ideas that are coming not out of Washington, D.C., but from outside the Beltway. Will the FairTax be distorted by campaign operatives? Certainly. Is that a sufficient reason not to finally take on the system that consistently produces the mind-numbing political patchwork quilt of favors that represents the income tax code? Certainly not.
The editors respond: We did not claim that a national sales tax would be more intrusive than the income tax. What we actually said is that the benefits of a national sales tax are being oversold. The Fair Taxers say they would kill the IRS. But any system of collecting several trillion dollars will be intrusive.
Needless to say, we have nothing against government of, by, and for the people. We have less confidence than Mr. Hoagland that the people will embrace his cause.
The Catastrophic Care Act was quickly repealed because it imposed a new tax, as Hoagland’s FairTax would. The fate of the immigration bill demonstrated, among other things, that our political system blocks change more easily than it forces it. Both of Hoagland’s examples, in other words, strengthen our case rather than his.