, Salem, MA


February 23, 2013

Shribman: Overhaul the tax system


Let’s recognize that throughout our history there’s been no issue more consistently contentious than taxes, except, of course, race. This is why lawmakers wheedle, maneuver and plot to get on the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee, where the tax laws are written — or, if you will, ruined.

The country was founded on a tax rebellion; the notion, still not fully redeemed, that all were created equal came later, in part to dress up the American Revolution and clothe it in Enlightenment raiment. Tax rebellions have been central to our history from Pennsylvania’s Whiskey Rebellion of 1791 to California’s Proposition 13 of 1978.

In our time, Republicans have waged consistent war against taxes, equating them, as their patriot forebears did, with tyranny, or arguing that they distort economic behavior and act as a brake on growth.

In his address in the House chamber earlier this month, the president portrayed a tax overhaul as a way to hit deficit-reduction targets, arguing that the country could “save hundreds of billions of dollars by getting rid of tax loopholes and deductions for the well-off and well-connected.”

That’s almost certainly true, but it’s also almost certainly a losing argument. Those who have tax loopholes and deductions are those best armed to preserve what President Washington would have called “the ill-concerted and incongruous” in our tax code.

It’s the next paragraph in the president’s address that has political merit. “The American people,” the president said, “deserve a tax code that helps small businesses spend less time filling out complicated forms and more time expanding and hiring; a tax code that ensures billionaires with high-powered accountants can’t pay a lower rate than their hard-working secretaries; a tax code that lowers incentives to move jobs overseas and lowers tax rates for businesses and manufacturers that create jobs right here in America.”

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