Commentary

A Flat Tax Is the Answer

The class-warfare crowd is predictably outraged that Mitt Romney supposedly paid just 13.9 percent of his income to the crowd in Washington. Surely this is a sign of both inequity and iniquity. Meanwhile, previewing a theme for the general election, President Obama said in his State of the Union address that “millionaires and billionaires” should cough up at least 30 percent of their earnings to the IRS.

This is bad policy based on inaccurate data.

Let’s deal first with the flawed numbers. Capital gains taxes and dividend taxes are both forms of double taxation. That income already is hit by the 35 percent corporate income tax. So the real tax rate for people like Mitt Romney is closer to 45 percent. And if you add the death tax to the equation, the effective tax rate begins to approach 60 percent.

Here’s a simply analogy. Imagine you make $50,000 per year and your employer withholds $5,000 for personal income tax. How would you feel if the IRS then told you that your income was $45,000 and you had to pay full tax on that amount, and that you weren’t allowed to count the $5,000 withholding when you filled out your 1040 form? You would be outraged, correctly yelling and screaming that you should be allowed to count those withheld tax payments.

Welcome to the world of double taxation.

The Obama approach is also bad economics. Every economic theory — even socialism and Marxism — agrees that saving and investment are the key to long-run growth and higher living standards. So does it make sense to deprive the economy of productive capital by imposing punitive layers of double taxation? To make matters worse, double taxation means transferring the money to the buffoons in Washington, where it will be squandered on inefficient and wasteful programs.

Europe’s welfare states are on the brink of collapse because they adopted the mentality that government spending was better than private saving and investment. Should we copy their failures?

The right way to ensure both fairness and growth is the flat tax. Get rid of the 72,000 pages of corruption and complexity in the Internal Revenue Service code and replace it with a postcard-sized flat tax. One low tax rate with no double taxation. That’s good for the economy and competitiveness.

And if Mitt Romney makes 100,000 times more than me, he’ll pay 100,000 times more in tax.

Daniel J. Mitchell is a top expert on tax reform and supply-side tax policy at the Cato Institute.