TAXES ARE HARD. Some attention has already been paid to this hackish op-ed expounding on the conservative virtues of the Alternative Minimum Tax. It is, the author writes, the quickest way of taking the country to a flat tax, which should be the preferred conservative solution. How weird then that conservatives are all clamoring for its repeal! What gives?
In a nutshell, this is why taxes are a tricky issue. Everyone is always clamoring for tax simplification, but that's not actually hard to do. The AMT has two tax brackets -- a 26 percent, and a 28 percent -- and you pay into one depending on how much you make. It's dead simple. A progressive tax structure could have six income brackets, and it wouldn't take you any more time. You'd look at a chart, compare it to your income, and multiply.
What makes taxes complicated are deductions and loopholes. But they're not the product of erosion, or some other natural, inevitable process. They're implemented because they're popular. People like their mortgage deductions and state and local tax deductions. Employers like their health care deductions. And various small interest groups like their various small deductions. The AMT, which does away with these loopholes and mitigating items, is perfectly simple and hugely unpopular. Why? Because it does away with those loopholes and mitigating items. Conservatives aren't serious about simplifying the tax code, they're serious about shifting its burdens.
That's what a flat taxes does, and it's a terrible idea. What you want to do is broaden the tax base, not make it less progressive. And though broadening the base while simplifying the code is a good idea, it's hard to do. Rich people don't like it. In any case, a good alternative plan is Ron Wyden's tax plan, which our Most Revered and Benevolent Overlord Mike Tomasky wrote about in our latest issue.
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