Sunday, June 1, 2008

Published Shot At Fair Tax Finds Only Air

Minnesota’s http://www.twincities.com/opinion/ci_9436854 posted an article by Paul Mulshine of The Star-Ledger of Newark, New Jersey on Saturday. It correctly pointed up the impending entitlement crisis and then missed the point in asserting that The Fair Tax that Huckabee supports will not fix it, calling it, “the real bridge to nowhere.” Here is the article and the response I left at the site.

So there's your real bridge to nowhere
By Paul Mulshine
Article Last Updated: 05/31/2008 04:24:03 PM CDT


Want to know what I never want to hear about again? The bridge to nowhere, that's what. Throughout this primary election season, which limps to a merciful end Tuesday, I have heard politicians pontificating about how they oppose building that bridge in Alaska.

I would much prefer to hear the pols talk about the one issue that looms above all others in terms of importance. Try to guess what it is. It's not the Iraq war. It's not the price of gas. It's not abortion, guns or gay marriage.
Give up? The biggest issue facing the next president of the United States is that the country is broke. Or at least it would be if it were a business. The accumulated debt of the United States exceeds its revenue by so much that if it were a corporation, the federal government would be in bankruptcy court.

You won't hear about this from politicians for one simple reason: Most of that debt is for programs promised to current and future retirees. Social Security and Medicare are too popular to cut. But they're too expensive to fund. So politicians ignore the problem.
Accountants worry about it, however. If you understand numbers, as Sheila Weinberg does, then you understand that the country is on its way to becoming a banana republic, a place where you need a knapsack just to carry currency. In Latin America years ago, I once visited such a country. I needed an inch-thick pile of bills just to buy breakfast, and breakfast cost only 75 cents in American money.

I don't want my kids to inherit such an economy. Weinberg feels the same about her kids. That's why she got involved with the Institute for Truth in Accounting, an Illinois-based group that would like to see government at all levels adopt "accrual accounting" as the heart of its budget process.
In traditional government accounting, politicians can promise endless future benefits while paying only a tiny portion upfront. But in accrual accounting, the pols would have to put aside enough money in a trust fund immediately to cover future promises.

If the U.S. had followed that system, the trust fund for Social Security and Medicare would need an immediate infusion of $54 trillion, Weinberg said. That's a lot of dough.
We ran up this debt because pols of both parties voted for popular programs without raising taxes to cover them. A classic was that prescription drug program adopted in the first term of the Bush administration.

"When they passed the prescription drug program, they should have sent a bill for $25,000 to every American," says Weinberg. "They should have asked, 'Do you want that? Then you need to send a check for $25,000 to start funding it.' "
Instead, the pols just added another $8 trillion in unfunded liability to a Medicare system that was already in the red.
But imagine for a second that the pols faced this problem honestly and decided to raise revenue to pay for their promises. How much would taxes have to rise?
The Congressional Budget Office was recently asked that question by Rep. Paul Ryan, a Republican from Wisconsin who is one of the few politicians willing to talk about the problem. In a letter to Ryan last month, the CBO said the income tax would have to more than double to offset entitlement expenses. That would mean the tax rate on income now in the 25 percent bracket — where many middle-class Americans find themselves — would rise to a staggering 63 percent. The top rate would have to rise from 35 percent to 83 percent.

To look at it another way, consider this in terms of GOP presidential contender Mike Huckabee's so-called "fair tax," a national sales tax of about 23 percent. Candidate Huckabee proposed that tax as a substitute for the income tax. But to balance the budget honestly, a President Huckabee would need to impose that big sales tax while also keeping the income tax.

Try to imagine Huckabee — or Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama or John McCain, for that matter — proposing such a huge tax hike. That's about as likely as any one of them proposing that we end Social Security and Medicare.

This is one area where the true spirit of bipartisanship reigns supreme. Both parties want to pass this problem to the next generation. So there's your real bridge to nowhere. And every young person in America is going to have to cross it.
Paul Mulshine is a columnist for the Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. His e-mail address is pmulshine@hotmail.com.
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I would describe myself as primarily pro-life, in that I think that the establishment and adoption of disrespect for the foundational respect for life signals the onset of a progressive decline of civil society. However, it is quite correct that the onslaught of entitlement liabilities that are now at hand, represent imminent economic calamity. And, I am amazed at how little (in fact none, that I can see) attention is being paid to this matter in this election season. It doesn't take a genius to see this tsunami, the leading curl of which we are now perched directly below. Any serious candidate must be aware of the crisis that the new president will face.

I assume that a Democratic president will just blame Bush for it to justify the necessity to do all three short-term supposed solutions: dramatically raise taxes, cut and/or ration benefits, and hyper-inflate the dollar, al of which in the big picture will actually exaccerbate the problem and probably be followed by a more dramatic socialization of the economy. This would be called "soaking the wealthy corporations, but in fact will be a bon to established corporations, imposing taxes and regulations that they can afford, but potential competition cannot. That is what socialism is: the alliance of big business and government.

McCain probably sees this impending threat, but knows it would be politically treacherous to talk about. But at least he is assertive about the urgent need to curtail extravagant spending, which is why Tom Coburn, the most conservative US Senator supports him enthusiastically, despite McCain's other conservative incoherencies. And so do I, though I assertively opposed McCain in 2000 and voted 3rd party in 2000 and 2004.

And, The Fair Tax is the only way to ease, even if it doesn't totally avert the crisis. And, not because a calculation of revenue based on current economic activity will solve the problem. In fact, the very suggestion is absurd: other things being equal, the change is supposed to be revenue neutral. But, it is expected that other things will not be equal: the change will bring a surge in revenue from both new economic activity and previously untaxed activity.

Is The Fair Tax the complete solution to the problem? It probably will not, because the problem is so unbelievably huge. Bit in fact, it is an essential start to addressing the problem: if The Fair Tax doesn't "cure" it, no other possible course will even make a tiny ding in the problem.

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