A wrong approach to tax reform


Given the manifest failures of the Obama administration’s economic policies — and the intellectual exhaustion that had beset the Republican Party by the end of the Bush years — we count it as a healthy sign that the GOP is now engaged in thinking seriously about new and innovative measures to address the country’s economic travails.

Over the past few years, a contingent of Republican members of Congress and right-leaning intellectuals have been hard at work on constructing “reform conservatism,” an application of traditional conservative principles to the most immediate problems facing the country. While that effort has largely been laudable, one of its most recent efforts gives us pause: a push to aggressively expand the use of the child tax credit (in the version proposed by Utah Sen. Mike Lee, parents would get a $2,500 credit per child in addition to the existing $1,000 credit).

We’re certainly sympathetic to the plight of America’s parents, all of whom could stand to have a little more money to take care of their children and a little less being siphoned off by Washington. We’re reflexively skeptical, however, of further bending the tax code so that the amount of money a citizen gets to keep is determined by personal choices in which the government should have no say one way or the other.

Proponents of the credit often argue that the childless disproportionally benefit from those with kids, because parents alone bear the costs of raising the children whose taxes will one day support everyone else. This line of analysis is disturbingly collectivist. If America’s tax and entitlement systems give rise to excessive transfer payments (which, to be clear, they do), that’s an argument for reforming those systems, not adding to the thicket of financial privileges that the government bestows on those who engage in behavior it favors.

We continue to believe that the best tax system is one that is as flat, as low, and as wide as possible. That means we should maximize the number of Americans paying in, minimize the rates that they pay, and drastically reduce the deductions and credits that distort economic incentives and make the process of filing a return nightmarishly complicated.

Under such a system, America’s parents would be better off — but they would not be privileged above other members of society who have chosen different lifestyles. The tax code ought to be sparse and utilitarian — a means for generating revenue for the government while inflicting the least possible damage on the private sector. We have no interest in seeing it used for purposes of social engineering — and Republicans who seek to limit the influence of the federal government shouldn’t, either.

— From the Orange County Register

 

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