I’ve gotten a bunch of emails from people about my article making the case against leadership on tax reform. One idea that I did not deal with keeps coming up: that a national sales tax would allow us to eliminate the hated IRS. This assumes that the introduction of the sales tax would coincide with the permanent elimination of the income tax. Otherwise, you would end up with both taxes. (Sometimes sales-tax advocates talk about repealing the Sixteenth Amendment, but they would have to go further and write an actual ban on income taxes into the Constitution. I find it hard to believe that the modern courts would block an income tax even if the Sixteenth Amendment did not exist.)
Anyway, the federal government cannot raise the amount of money it takes to fund its current operations, or anything close to them, without being intrusive. Perhaps the intrusion could be confined to business owners who would be tasked with collecting sales taxes–in which case it might end up being much more onerous on this class. But almost every economic transaction you make will continue to be the business of the federal government in some way or other.
A number of correspondents also criticized my defeatism. Here’s one: “I am a little dismayed at your recent article . . . . You mention the political difficulties of getting [flat-tax] legislation passed, well if you work to have a political majority you can ram this stuff right down their throats. The key is to build a significant majority, especially in the Senate so no obstacles get in your way. You also have to, as President, use the bully pulpit to convince the American people of your idea. If it is explained thoroughly and with the right emotional tugging words it will pass. . . . Your dismissive and defeatist attitude on this is quite dishearting.”
You are never, ever going to build a political majority so committed to the idea of abolishing the mortgage-interest deduction that you can ram it through. Rather than wasting their time trying to build such a majority for comprehensive reform, I argued that conservatives are better off seeking actually achievable policy improvements that make further progress possible in the future. If that is “disheartening,” so be it. I think conservatives should generally be talked out of useless enthusiasms.