On Monday night, more than eighty million Americans watched our two candidates for president argue more about missing tax returns, deleted emails, and a former beauty queen than the issue that matters most to our country’s health and prosperity: economic growth.
When our economy grows rapidly, as it did during the Reagan and (Bill) Clinton administrations, good things happen. Home ownership increases, budget deficits shrink (Mr. Clinton produced a surplus his last four years), crime drops, and America’s influence increases worldwide. Unfortunately, our gross domestic product hasn’t grown more than four percent a year since the end of the last century, and I don’t see it topping that critical figure again anytime soon.
With the horrible events in Boston earlier this week, and in Texas last night, it seems like I should talk about something pleasant and diversionary today. So how about a post on, oh I don’t know … taxes?
On Sunday, the Times ran a couple of columns on the horrors of our tax code. One piece focused on the code’s unfairness, and how working people often wind up paying higher tax rates than hedge fund managers like me. Another documented how hopelessly complicated the code is, noting that Americans spend 9.14 billion hours filling out IRS forms every year. These twin critiques are not new. I’m old enough to remember when then-presidential candidate Jimmy Carter called the tax code “a disgrace to the human race.” And yet, Carter and every other would-be reformer after him have failed to make taxes fairer or simpler. If anything, the code has gotten both more complex and less equitable since Carter left office. Why is that?