Candidate Obama has introduced an array of tax proposals, which he discusses in various places on his campaign website. There are four overlapping themes in the Obama tax proposals the way I see it:
- Social engineering.
- Economic micromanagement.
- Empty populism.
Under social engineering, I would put Obama’s plan to greatly increase the dependent care tax credit. That would further encourage parents to find institutional day care for their children, rather than providing care themselves.
Under discrimination, I would put Obama’s proposed special tax break for the elderly. The federal fiscal system is already heavily tilted in favor of the elderly, thus it is unclear why Obama would want to further discriminate against the young.
Obama’s “American Opportunity Tax Credit” also creates unfair discrimination. This new tax break for college essentially increases subsidizes for future lawyers, accountants, and other professionals. Why subsidize these folks who will likely have much higher earnings than factory workers, retail clerks, and others who don’t go to college?
Under economic micromanagement, I would put Obama’s Patriot Employer Act, which provides tax breaks to certain businesses that jump through hoops related to hiring, wages, and other items. Obama wants to cut capital gains taxes on certain investments and increase capital gains taxes on others, and he is proposing various narrow energy tax breaks.
Under empty populism, I would put Obama’s railings against “tax haven abuse” and “corporate loopholes.” If Mr. Obama really wanted to reduce corporate tax avoidance–rather than just using it as a campaign prop–he would join with John McCain and call for an across-the-board corporate rate cut.
A final category might be “innocuous tax cuts that do nothing for economic growth.” Here I would put Obama’s $500 payroll tax credit called “making work pay.” If Obama had wanted to spur employment, he should have proposed a cut in the payroll tax rate, which would change the marginal incentive to work, unlike the proposed credit.
In sum, Obama’s tax proposals are pretty awful. It is true that many Republicans and Democrats have proposed similarly bad tax ideas over the years. But Obama can be contrasted with candidate McCain, who thus far has avoided narrow favoritism in his tax proposals, and favors broad-based tax reductions designed to spur economic growth.