The Corner

Politics & Policy

The Bernie Sanders Big Brother Act of 2018

Bernie Sanders speaks at a campaign event in Amherst, Mass., January 2016. (Mary Schwalm/Reuters)

Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) has introduced legislation to tax companies for the federal benefits their employees receive, unsubtly called the Stop Bad Employers by Zeroing Out Subsidies, or BEZOS Act. Leave aside for now the ominous nature of naming a piece of federal legislation after an individual, solely due to legislative animus at that individual’s financial success. Let’s look at how this would operate in practice:

The bill would establish a 100% tax on companies equal to the benefits their employees are receiving. Covered public assistance program include Medicaid, Section 8 housing, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs, for companies with more than 500 employees.

You may, reading this, be picturing the avenging angels of the federal government — dispassionate, omniscient, charged by President Trump with sharing his high integrity and commitment to the even-handed and sober-minded enforcement of all the laws — sweeping in every April 15 to hand down the tax bill for this on graven tablets. But that is not how corporate taxation works.

The reality is that any plausible system of enforcement under legislation of this nature would in practice require big companies to ask a huge, new number of invasive questions of their employees in order to determine who is in their family or household and what federal benefits such people receive. And, by imposing costs on the company proportional to such benefits, it will strongly incentivize companies to find ways to avoid employing, say, single mothers who receive a lot of benefits. Preventing such discrimination, when the government is clobbering businesses over the head with economic reasons to engage in it, will require even further commitments of resources (And you know who doesn’t get federal welfare benefits? Offshore workers, and robots). To say nothing of the fact that audits of companies that employ a lot of people suspiciously not applying for federal welfare benefits would swiftly reveal companies that employ a lot of illegal immigrants (if you’re a liberal, just be thankful that nobody running the executive branch these days would think to do that). Any system of enforcement that tried to bypass the employer as information-gatherer would inevitably look like the e-verify system desired by immigration hawks.

As always, when you set the wheels of big government in motion, be careful what you wish for. You might get it, good and hard.

Most Popular

The Trail Leading Back to the Wuhan Labs

It is understandable that many would be wary of the notion that the origin of the coronavirus could be discovered by some documentary filmmaker who used to live in China. Matthew Tye, who creates YouTube videos, contends he has identified the source of the coronavirus — and a great deal of the information that ... Read More

The Trail Leading Back to the Wuhan Labs

It is understandable that many would be wary of the notion that the origin of the coronavirus could be discovered by some documentary filmmaker who used to live in China. Matthew Tye, who creates YouTube videos, contends he has identified the source of the coronavirus — and a great deal of the information that ... Read More
World

How to Make China Pay

One of the big questions facing the international community today is how to hold China legally and politically accountable for all its dishonesty and harm to people around the world. According to reports, U.S. intelligence agencies have confirmed to the White House that China has deliberately understated the ... Read More
World

How to Make China Pay

One of the big questions facing the international community today is how to hold China legally and politically accountable for all its dishonesty and harm to people around the world. According to reports, U.S. intelligence agencies have confirmed to the White House that China has deliberately understated the ... Read More
World

All Signs Point to China

Just one big story today: collecting and sorting through what we know about the coronavirus's origins, and what makes sense and what doesn’t in the theory that it originated from someone eating bats or pangolins from the Huanan Seafood Market. What We Know and What We Don’t Know about the Source of ... Read More
World

All Signs Point to China

Just one big story today: collecting and sorting through what we know about the coronavirus's origins, and what makes sense and what doesn’t in the theory that it originated from someone eating bats or pangolins from the Huanan Seafood Market. What We Know and What We Don’t Know about the Source of ... Read More