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Flat tax: not so simple

Here is the weirdness of the Internet: We now have more information atour fingertips 24/7 than even the most brilliant scientists had a fewdecades back.

Here is the weirdness of the Internet: We now have more information at our fingertips 24/7 than even the most brilliant scientists had a few decades back. With one touch, we can explore world religions, orangutans or the physics of a curve ball. Once upon a time, we gathered in bars for hours to debate things like, “Whatever happened to Scott Baio?” These days, some jerk just whips out his iPhone. Case closed. Fun over.

And yet, this instant access to superficial knowledge about everything seems to be killing our interest in deeper knowledge about anything. If a concept can’t be reduced to a tweet, many of us can’t be troubled to take it in. Perhaps that explains the pronounced appetite among voters for tax plans that might have been scratched out in the margin of a newspaper while the candidate’s coffee cooled.

9-9-9. The flat tax.

The appeal is obvious: They sound simple. They sound like an antidote to all the complexity that plagues us in our cell phone bills, insurance plans and whatever that stupid discount program is at the grocery store.

But reforming the tax code, even if you think that is a spectacular idea, is inherently complex. Rick Perry practically knit­ted his brow into a cardigan this week, when he noted that the current tax code is made up of tens of thousands of pages.

Exactly. Tax policy analysts say thinking that such a vast system can be easily reduced to a stack of postcards, without seismic shifts in what we get from and give to our government, is naïve.

Republicans and Democrats alike try to sell such ideas all the time as the very essence of simplicity; whether talking about job creation or trimming the debt. They know pithy statements grab head­lines and are easily posted on Facebook.

But voters need to know that such claims, especially with regard to the tax code, are almost always misleading. Those same tax analysts say making such changes would not be like repainting the Capitol, but rather more like replacing the foundation. And as much as we may want it to be simple, it would instead be hugely complicated and full of wild uncertainty.

– CNN’s Tom Foreman is a regular on “AC360°”/www.ac360.com and “The Situation Room.”

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