- - Tuesday, March 11, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

For the Republican Party to succeed in this November’s midterm elections, one thing is clear: Superior ideas must be a top priority.

It’s not enough for the GOP to simply oppose every political and economic idea that the Democrats propose. Rather, Republicans need to propose their own policies, provide straightforward explanations of why they make sense, and prove how they will ultimately benefit society.

Here’s an opening strategy: To distinguish themselves from the tax-and-spend liberal Democrats, the GOP should support a flat tax.

I can already hear some deep sighs from the peanut gallery. “We’ve been down this path before,” some will say. “It didn’t sell, so why would we waste our time with this again?”

As someone who has written about the flat tax for numerous publications, I can tell you why. First, it has never been properly explained to voters. Second, political messaging about its benefits has always been on the weak side.

Certainly, Milton Friedman laid the important groundwork for a 23.5 percent flat-rate income tax in his seminal 1962 book “Capitalism and Freedom.”

He was followed by Alvin Rabushka and Robert Hall, who proposed a 19 percent flat tax (to be filed on a postcard) combined with personal exemptions for married couples, single-parent families and dependents.

Various politicians and public figures, including Steve Forbes, Phil Gramm, Dick Armey, Richard C. Shelby, Richard G. Lugar and Pat Buchanan, touted their own flat-tax strategies. Each proposal contained a different flat rate, number of deductions and so forth.

Do you see a problem developing? There were too many flat-tax proposals being proposed by too many individuals. What this led to can summarized in one simple phrase: information overload.

The task of demonizing a flat tax then became incredibly easy for Democrats.

Consider what happened to Mr. Forbes, the most visible supporter in recent times. He was treated with utter contempt owing to his wealth and social standing. Ergo, this thought-provoking flat-tax proposal was transformed by the political left into a money grab for him — and his rich and famous friends.

The Republicans, who were already suffering from flat tax on the brain, ran away from it.

Ironically, the flat tax ended up having greater traction in countries with histories of corruption, political unrest or periods of financial malaise. This includes Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Hungary, Belize, Jamaica, Serbia, Bulgaria, Poland and tiny Mauritius.

Even China has given the flat tax more serious consideration than the United States, for goodness’ sake.

Political and financial histories aside, the flat tax should have been a natural policy for the Republicans to spearhead to victory. I think this can still be accomplished. Here are some ways to enhance the GOP’s political messaging skills:

Pick one flat-tax rate and stick with it. My suggestion is 20 percent. It’s a simple figure that is easy to remember and can be properly sold to a wide array of potential voters.

Limit the number of personal exemptions. The selling point is a low, single rate of tax. The more things you add to the pot, the greedier you seem in the eyes of voters. I would suggest one major deduction, either for retirement or marriage purposes, and leave it at that.

Emphasize that many poor Americans would be removed from the tax rolls for good. As noted in the 1995 Kemp Commission, “a flat rate tax would not only be a fairer system for middle-income Americans, but also would abolish income taxes for relatively poor people by providing for a generous personal exemption.”

This is a key component that Republicans have never properly explained. It’s time to change this.

Prove that it benefits all Americans, and not just the wealthy. Economic historian John Steele Gordon showed in the May-June 1996 issue of American Heritage that the marginal rate (tax on the next dollar of earned income) may be flat, but the effective tax rate (the amount of total income taken in taxes) is quite progressive.

Moreover, a straight comparison of graduated personal income taxes with a flat tax would favor the wealthy over the middle class, but not when you directly compare personal and corporate income taxes.

The benefits of a flat tax are enormous. It would simplify the tax code, increase annual take-home pay, and aid people of all income levels. As tax season approaches, it’s time for the GOP to lead the charge for a real flat-tax revolution in the United States.

Michael Taube is a contributor to The Washington Times.

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