Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Be Fair to the Fair Tax - A Rebuttal from Its Supporters

Be Fair to FairTax -- Throw the Red Herrings Back in the Water
August 29, 2007; Page A13 of The Wall Street Journal

It is apparently getting so difficult to defend the current income tax system that its guardians must use smear tactics to slow down its best replacement. Bruce Bartlett ("FairTax, Flawed Tax," editorial page, Aug. 25) is the latest status quo defender to use fiction to slander the FairTax plan.

The FairTax was developed many years ago, totally independently of any other proposal, group or movement. It is a product of more than $20 million of advanced economic research, as well as detailed conversations with citizens as to their preferences defining the best possible national tax system. Many groups and individuals have agitated to replace the deeply flawed income tax system, including, apparently, the Church of Scientology. As a founder of Americans For Fair Taxation, I can state categorically, however, that Scientology played no role in the founding, research or crafting of the legislation giving expression to the FairTax.

Mr. Bartlett is equally wrong about many other aspects of the FairTax. We are disappointed but hardly surprised by such distortions about it coming from the very economist who once opined that the income tax system just needed a little "tweaking."

Leo Linbeck
Chairman and CEO
Americans for Fair Taxation

My guess is that few readers made it with an open mind past Mr. Bartlett attributing the FairTax's origins to the Church of Scientology. That organization may have a similar proposal or a proposal with a similar name, but I know for certain that the mainstream FairTax proposal found at has no connection to it.

I know this because the two principal founders of the FairTax movement, Leo Linbeck and Bob McNair of Houston, are friends of mine who served on my board at the Dallas Fed. I was there as they began to develop their proposal in the mid-1990s. I watched them pitch their fledgling idea to their friends and business associates, and I watched them urge prominent economists to do independent research on their proposal. I even accompanied them to San Francisco to pitch it to Milton and Rose Friedman. (I still remember Rose's homemade cookies.)

We should give the FairTax a fair chance. In fact, I posted a blog with that title a few weeks ago. See A fair chance means a thorough evaluation and discussion of its merits without the distraction of a red herring.

Bob McTeer
Distinguished Fellow
National Center for Policy Analysis
Former President of the Dallas Fed
Frisco, Texas

The FairTax would replace the federal corporate and individual income tax, payroll taxes and the estate and gift tax with a 23% national retail sales tax on all goods and services. Each household would be provided with a monthly prebate equal to the sales tax rate times the federal poverty level plus a small extra amount in the case of a married couple to prevent a marriage penalty.

The FairTax bill (H.R. 25) was developed by economists, business people and tax lawyers who understood that the current tax system is dysfunctional. Specifying the criteria by which successful reform should be evaluated, they engineered the tax around the notion that reform should minimize the adverse growth effects of the tax system, be neutral between debt and equity, consumption and savings, and among industries, should reduce compliance burdens that waste more than a quarter trillion dollars today, respect civil liberties instead of requiring Americans to reveal virtually every aspect of their lives to government, eliminate favoritism shown imports and remove the penalty on exports, enhance the competitiveness of the U.S. as an investment destination and a location for headquartering businesses, eliminate the bias against upward mobility, and increase transparency and comprehension of the tax system.

Mr. Bartlett questions economic claims that under the FairTax proposal the gross domestic product will rise 10.5%. In fact, Arduin, Laffer & Moore Econometrics estimates GDP gains up to 24.4% greater than under the current system by the 10th year. Michael Boskin, former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, estimates long-term gain to GDP from a consumption-based tax reform would be about 10%. Laurence Kotlikoff estimated a 7% to 14% increase in GDP. Many others find high single digit to low double digit gains. Lowering marginal rates and eliminating double and triple taxation of savings will increase the well-being of the American people by a trillion dollars per year and perhaps much more.

The FairTax would untax existing homes that represent three-quarters of all homes bought and sold. And by allowing mortgage interest payments to be paid with both pre-income and pre-payroll tax dollars, the tax is the equivalent of allowing mortgage interest to be deductible against payroll taxes today. Interest rates will drop by 25% for the same reason municipal bond rates are lower than taxable bond rates. Interest would not be taxable to the recipient. And of course there is the benefit of having the only developed economy in the world with a zero rate of tax on income.

Dan R. Mastromarco
David R. Burton
Alexandria, Va.

(Messrs. Mastromarco and Burton are principals in the Argus Group, a law and government relations firm.)

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