Rev. Huckabee at CPAC

A Feb 8 memo from Mike Huckabee’s campaign chairman and manger, Ed Rollins and Chip Saltsman, explained how the Governor expected to win the Republican nomination. “Governor Huckabee has done best among hardcore Republicans, the activist base. That’s one reason why we are looking forward to Governor Huckabee.s speech to the legendary CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference, in DC … You’d better believe that the folks gathered at the OmniShoreham hotel are the go-getters who make or break primary elections. Just wait till they get a load of Mike Huckabee! … And now, with the endorsement of Dr. James Dobson, who is the ‘gold standard’ of social conservatism, we fully expect that Movement Conservatives – those who fight the good fight on Life, on Marriage, on the Second Amendment – will increasingly rally to our cause.”

Gov. Huckabee, exuding all the charm of a southern preacher, told CPAC that he wasn’t schooled in math (or economics), he was schooled in miracles. But even miracles did not produce good math, even with that crowd. A straw poll of presidential favorites among 1705 attendees showed Mitt Romney first with 21% of the vote, followed by Rudy Giuliani at (17%), Sam Brownback (15%) and New Gingrich (14%). Huckabee was an also-ran among “go-getter conservatives who make or break primary elections,” even though he’s the only one running.

Stirring so much religion into politics seems to make even conservative activist nervous. Let the radical Islamists combine church and state –we prefer ours separate, thanks.

Or perhaps the CPAC activists were not persuaded that government agents trying to collect a 30% sales tax would be any gentler or less intrusive than IRS agents. Abolishing the IRS may sound great until you realize that collecting a huge sales tax at the retail level means the government would have to snoop into everything you buy or sell. And, no, the constitution does not grant feds the police power to force state tax collectors to do such dirty work.

There have been some excellent op eds questioning the Fair Tax in The Wall Street Journal by Bruce Bartlett last August 25 and Jerry Bower  on January 8.  Bartlett, a top Treasury tax official from 1988 to 1992, also wrote a solid longer paper on the topic. Disagree with them if you can, but don’t just shout them down. Logic and evidence tend to be more reliable than miracles.

I wrote to Bartlett and Bower saying they had courage to even mention the FairTax, since doing so always brings a flood of cultish email lecturing about the fairness of being fair and how unfair it is to say otherwise. Don’t bother sending such complaints to me, by the way – it now goes straight to my spam folder. Chances are, I’ve read a bit more about taxes than you have, and don’t really welcome any amateur lectures on the subject.

I just added the following comments about a explanation of “Huckanomics” (written by filmmaker Donovan Quinn) on the mikehuckabee.com site. I post it here on the off-chance that it might get, well, misplaced :

No economist would say, as such FairTax fans do, “With businesses no longer passing on the costs of payroll taxes and other imbedded [embedded] costs to their customers, retail prices will drop.” [although one implied that could happen if and only if wages fell too]

If that were true, then everything would be cheaper in states with no income tax, because all tax savings are assumed to be passed on to consumers. Yet the economists’ “Law of One Price” explains why the same good cannot sell for greatly different prices in two places, aside from shipping costs.

If businesses could simply pass on their income and payroll taxes by raising prices, why don’t we buy everything from tax havens which impose little or no direct taxes?

Why do we import anything from Germany and Japan, where income and payroll taxes are much higher than ours? Aren’t their higher income and payroll taxes embedded in higher prices? No, of course not. Business can’t just set prices wherever they like. Prices are set on global markets by supply and demand, not by average cost.

All taxes (including sales taxes) are borne by people in their capacity as suppliers of labor and capital – they can’t just be shifted at will by changing prices.

Experiments with sales taxes above 10% have always failed because intermediate (wholesale) transactions must be exempt to avoid multiple layers of taxation. With a high tax at the retail level, those with access to tax-free wholesale prices would have a huge incentive to sell on the black market. That is very easy with eBay and Pay Pal, and sellers do not have to be in the USA.

Taking a leap of faith is fine, but not when it comes to learning economics. That takes some work.