There’s a theme developing in the tax debate that a flat tax, like Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 or another version that Gov Perry’s now talking about, is simpler than a system of progressively higher, or graduated rates.Flat is the new stupid. Does it dawn on these conservative tax savants that the principle they are espousing is equality?
Not so. Both can be as simple or complicated as you like...
That principle can be interpreted variously: equality of sacrifice, equality of outcomes, equality of opportunity. And each of those equalities can be interpreted in several ways: equality of sacrifice may mean a poll tax, where everyone pays the same absolute amount; a proportional percentage tax, such as the flat taxers advocate; or a progressively graduated tax that tries to account for the differential utility of an extra dollar of income to people of different incomes.
An early president of the National Association of Manufacturers, David M. Parry (with an “a”), wrote a dystopian novel in 1905, titled The Scarlet Empire, whose leitmotif was a reductio ad absurdum parody of the notion of equality. The excess uniformity ultimately came down to legislation that everyone had to chew their food the same number of chews. I suspect Parry would have had no objection to a uniform tax, though, in which everyone, rich and poor, paid the same amount but surely he would have embraced the abstract equality of Governor Perry’s flat tax proposal.
Funny thing about equality: everyone’s supposed to have been created equal but some kinds of equality are more equal than others.