Explaining Southern California's economy

Why are politicians fixated on a 'simple' tax code?

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kenteegardin/Flickr

Pictured: the advanced technology used to calculate the nation's taxes.

Herman Cain has his 999 plan. It's so much simpler than the excessively complex system we have now. Rick Perry just unveiled his 20-20 plan, which is also so much simpler than the excessively complex system we have now. And just today, I heard California Senator Dianne Feinstein support a recommendation, from Erksine Bowles and Alan Simpson's Deficit Commission, to reduce out current six tax brackets to three: 12, 20, and 27 percent (the top rate is now 35 percent).

Simplicity, it seems, sells. But why?

If anything, federal taxes are far easier to file than ever. I used TurboTax for the first time this year and, once I had gathered all my documents, the process consumed about an hour. In 1979, however, long before TurboTax came along, people managed to deal with 17 tax brackets, using a Bic ballpoint and calculator. In 1945, they confronted 24 brackets with nothing more than a No. 2 pencil, a pad of paper, a pack of Lucky Strikes, and stiff drink.

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Rick Perry's Bizarro World tax plan

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GOP Presidential Candidate Rick Perry

I honestly didn't think anyone could — or would — come up with a worse plan for U.S. tax reform than Herman Cain did with his 999 proposal. But Texas Gov. Rick Perry just released his "Cut, Balance and Grow" plan, which is also being referred to as the "20-20" plan, echoing Cain's 999. The difference is that Perry replaces Cain's 9 percent flat income and corporate taxes with a 20 percent flat tax for both. But there's more! And just in time for Halloween, it's...terrifying!

I'd like to call it stupid, but ridiculously stupid would be better.

The plan has four key pieces:

  1. Americans will be able to choose between the current tax system and the 20-percent flat tax. 
  2. Corporations will see their tax rate cut from an average of 35 percent under the current system to a flat 20 percent with Perry's plan.
  3. Federal spending would be capped at 18 percent of GDP, which Perry argues is the average since 1960. This will, he insists, balance the budget by 2020.
  4. Workers would be able to opt out of Social Security.

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