“I lean toward a flat tax. But I want to make it real flat, like zero.”
—Ron Paul, The Tonight Show (with Jay Leno), Oct. 31, 2007.
In an interview with Fox News yesterday, Senator Ted Cruz endorsed a tax proposal often championed by more radical congressional predecessors like Ron Paul: “Abolish the IRS.”
This idea excites many conservatives, and indeed even once made Glenn Beck so giddy he wanted to “French kiss” Ron Paul—were they, of course, not both men.
And now Cruz takes up the banner, “Abolish the IRS!”
Great! At least it was great until he kept talking:
[I]nstead move to a simple flat tax, where the average American can fill out our taxes on a postcard. Put down how much you earn. Put down a deduction for charitable contributions and home mortgage. And put down how much you owe.
As the Ezra Klein from the Washington Post notes, this all sounds radically wonderful in a tea party kinda way, but the devil is in the details:
That does sound simple! But what if some citizen somewhere declines to fill out the postcard? Well, I guess we need some bureaucrat that will send them a follow-up postcard making sure they got the first postcard. If they don’t fill out that postcard, we need someone who will give them a call to make sure they’re getting these postcards.
And Cruz’s flat tax is actually a bit more complicated than most. It includes deductions for mortgages and charitable contributions. What if everyone says they gave a million dollars to charity and own a huge home? Who’s going to check all that out? Well, some well-meaning flat-tax collection agents, I guess.
The people doing all this need to sit somewhere. The place they sit doesn’t need to be called “The Internal Revenue Service.” It can be called “The Agency of Tax Freedom.” But it is, in effect, the Internal Revenue Service.
Which is all to say that Cruz doesn’t really want to abolish the IRS. He wants to reform the tax code — and, given the sparse details he offered, his reforms will be hugely regressive. But even his tax code will need someone, somewhere, to enforce it.
As the Paul quote above makes clear, the only good tax is no tax. And when politicians—even the most beloved, conservative, Tea Party caucus guys like Cruz—begin to talk big, such as, “Abolish the IRS,” you’d better follow up quickly and see what they really mean. It’ll do no good to “abolish the IRS” and even cut down on some annoying paperwork if in the end you leave tax rates basically the same and some otherwise named bureaucracy to implement and enforce the system. The IRS currently employs 100,000 people. As the WaPo article makes clear, Cruz’s “postcard” tax system will still require a significant number of them to keep the national income tax system working.
As it is, Cruz’s position is much like those big-talking Republicans who shouted for months about repealing Obamacare. Yet the moment it was signed into law, a bunch of sellouts and cowards immediately cajoled the entire party platform into “repeal and replace”—meaning that as far as the Republican establishment is concerned, nationalized health care in some form is here to stay. Nancy Pelosi could not have done it better herself.
Well, there’s still one way you can destroy all government intervention of this kind. The only way to beat fat cat bureaucrats is to starve them of funding. In short: End the Fed and Abolish the IRS. But you have to get real and get serious about it.
Cruz currently has perhaps one of the most laudable reputations in Congress in terms of courage and consistency. His stand with Rand Paul and others on the Second Amendment had so-called RINOs McCain and Lindsey Graham literally yelling in his face in private meetings and lunches. But he stood anyway. This is why we have to be even tougher on Cruz than we would on others: because we now know that if he just knows what is right, he will probably stand for it against all opposition.
So here’s what’s right, Mr. Cruz. Here’s what “flat tax” really means: a single percentage for everyone across the board with no exceptions. But you have to acknowledge this still entails bureaucracy and invasion of privacy, not to mention the inherent theft of taxation.
So here’s what “Abolish the IRS” really means: repeal it and don’t replace it with anything. Instead—novel idea—cut spending.
When Ron Paul was interviewed on Meet the Press in 2007, the late Tim Russert asked the Congressman the standard wide-eyed question that comes from all people who have grown up inside the box of government indoctrination: If you abolish the IRS and the income tax, “What would happen with all of those lost revenues. How would we fund our government?”
Again, the answer was novel and shocking: “We have to cut spending.”
Indeed, this is a necessary step: “We can’t get rid of the income tax if we don’t cut spending.”
This is what abolishing the IRS means. Mr. Cruz, for the sake of the privacy, property, and personal effects of American citizens today, as well as the burdens (not currently “blessings” under our tax code and debt system) of American “liberty” upon the shoulders of all our future generations, I hope you and many other legislators will get this right. Now is the time to see if you can correct yourself back to hard core Tea Partyism, or whether this is the first of many compromises in a long slippery slope to mainstreaming yourself for 2016.
Abolish the IRS, and don’t replace it with anything except less spending. And then, maybe then, I’ll send you a postcard.