Sunday, December 12, 2010

Bad Arguments Against Tax Code Reform

A rather bad argument against tax reform:
Where’s the evidence that Americans would flock to his side if Obama staked his presidency on an inspirational call to build a greater, more prosperous nation—by simplifying the tax code? Is there any sizeable group of voters outside the pleasant confines of Washington think tanks, the Ways and Means Committee, selected corporate law firms, and the dear friends of David Broder that is passionate about overhauling the way revenues are apportioned and collected? Despite the anger of many liberals and some conservatives at the plan Obama and Republican leaders agreed on this week, most Americans seem to endorse what they know about it. According to a Gallup poll, two-thirds of the public supports extending both all the Bush tax cuts and unemployment benefits.

Of course there are reasons to do tax reform and reasons not to do it, but one of those reasons is not voter apathy. Voters might not flock to Obama’s side because of tax reform, but if it delivers higher growth rates and a better economy they’ll be happy for it even if they don’t know precisely why.

(The writer ends by asking Obama to devote his State of the Union to the issues Americans really care about: “their jobs, their health care, their homes, their education, and their environment.” But of course the claim of tax code reformers, with some justification, is that streamlining and simplifying the tax code will positively impact at least some of those things. Indeed, one of the top issues for health care reformers is repealing the health insurance tax exemption.)

The article is a not-especially-egregious instance of the unfortunate policy argument whereby a partisan argues for a particular policy by saying how much people agree with him/her. I’m not a fan of this line of argument because it becomes unfortunately meta- (why do we like it? The people do. Why do the people like it? Because the people do) or unfortunately cherrypicking (e.g. “the environment” above. I doubt this is a top issue for most Americans). The best way to combat this particular bias is to argue for policies based on…whether or not you think it’s a good policy.

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