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Features, Politics, Top Stories

Tax Reform, Part 1: Introduction

Posted: July 12, 2013 at 10:00 am   /   by

Is the tax reform plan of Baucus, Camp, and Hatch REALLY a ‘blank slate’?

If you are an observer of current events, you may by now have heard of an effort underway to reform the tax code. Congress is abuzz with negotiations. The media and citizenry at large look on, speculating as to what they might come up with. And skepticism abounds that Washington, of late so bitterly divided, can manage to produce any agreement at all on what would be the first tax reform of its kind in a quarter-century.

Still, as with many such efforts, it begins with enthusiasm and the appearance of bipartisan camaraderie. House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) and Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) are taking a series of road trips together to “talk to business owners, and families and individuals, and really try to get a read from around the country” on the kinds of reforms Americans want. Baucus and Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch (ranking member on the Finance Committee) are making bold statements about taking a “blank slate” approach, in an effort to produce sweeping, comprehensive reform. Of course, even in the midst of this early enthusiasm, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) have already cast a few dark clouds over the proceedings.

But the darkest cloud of all is the tax code itself, which involves . . .

  • Six billion labor-hours per year—the equivalent of 3.4 million people working full-time—spent dealing with the United States’ byzantine tax laws.
  • Corporate taxes—a form of taxation that an OECD study found to be the most damaging to economic growth—that are now the highest in the world.
  • Favored industries (such as wind and solar) lavished with taxpayer dollars while convenient bugbears like the oil and gas industries are hit with punitive levels of taxation.
  • A labyrinthine combination of tax incentives and penalties—unequal and unfair, yet so entrenched as to defy all efforts at extrication.

The list could go on and on, but this last item bears amplification.

blank_slate_tabula_rasaThe Hill describes Baucus and Hatch as taking a “blank slate approach,” and then immediately goes on to qualify that approach as one in which “their colleagues [are required] to make the case for their favorite tax breaks.” If that is the starting-point definition of “blank slate,” this tax reform effort is virtually guaranteed to produce a result that looks eerily similar to exactly what we have now.

The problem is found in the core assumption itself, namely that anyone should be getting tax breaks. The idea that one individual, cohort of people, or industry should be favored while others are penalized runs counter to the very reason that a people consents to be taxed in the first place.

Now, rather than have a simple, fair system of taxation for the purpose of funding a core set of social-contract functions from which all citizens generally benefit, we have a system in which interest groups lobby to get goodies from the public trough—a trough filled at others’ expense. If we were truly to take a “blank slate” approach to reforming our system of taxation, would we start by building upon a foundation whose core sentiment is, “I don’t care whose ox is being gored, as long as I’m getting paid”?

Indeed, let’s take this even further. Would a group of villagers, working together to form their first society, even consider a tax code—or anything else—that treated people this unequally?


Tax Reform, Part 2: In the Village

Christopher Cook

Christopher Cook

Managing Editor at Western Free Press
Christopher Cook is a writer, editor, and political commentator. He is the president of Castleraine, Inc., a consulting firm providing a diverse array of services to corporate, public policy, and not-for-profit clients.

Ardently devoted to the cause of human freedom, he has worked at the confluence of politics, activism, and public policy for more than a decade. He co-wrote a ten-part series of video shorts on economics, and has film credits as a researcher on 11 political documentaries, including Citizens United's notorious film on Hillary Clinton that became the subject of a landmark Supreme Court decision. He is the founder of several activist endeavors, including (now a part of Western Free Press) and He is currently the managing editor of and principal contributor to
Christopher Cook


  1. Raymond59 says:

    Whenever they talk about “Tax Reform,” it usually costs the Taxpayer money out of their Pockets.

    1. Raymond59 I just love the “blank slate” comment. They have no idea what a blank slate is.

      “C’mon, belly up to the trough and make the case for your pet deductions.”


  2. FilmCriticOne says:

    Yes we need a new tax code, but watch out for hustlers.  I believed several great sounding frauds — Fairtax and Flat tax, for example, sound great.  At least Flat tax is rational, though it’s hustle is it just exempts certain kinds of income from any taxation at all. 
    In case you are fooled by Fairtax, I keep offering anyone — Neal Boortz, or anyone else — 50,000 dollars  if they can show ANYTHING in the legislation or supporting documents to prove it’s a simple personal consumption tax to replace all other fed taxes.   Yeah, that’s their song and dance, but in the fine print are massive (2 trillion massive) other taxes.  
    We will never get a new tax code if people are so stupid they can’t or wont read the fine print. I show you the fine print tricks in Fairtax — but you can see them yourself, just read ALL the documents very closely, including footnotes and supporting documents.

    1. FilmCriticOne Well let’s forget, for the time being, about the specific FAIR tax version of the consumption tax. What would be wrong with just a straight consumption tax (with income taxes eliminated, of course)? Other countries make consumption taxes work, so why not us?

Tax Reform, Part 1: Introduction