There are many aspirational visions for the tax code. If yours is a wildly complex, 2,600-page code of rules and frustration, you win, because that’s what we have now. If you desire a federal tax code that’s an archaeological record of special-interest politics, chiseled out over time with giveaways under the cover of achieving social goals like subsidized child care, homeownership, health care, higher education and more, you win again.
But if your vision is for a more equitable system that can actually be enforced by the I.R.S., what we really need is a simpler and fairer tax code. Some of the current rules are good, but many are political giveaways to special interests. Telling those rules apart is actually harder than it seems, but there are some obvious places to start.
Which brings us to a second reason late October will be a red-letter moment in the annals of the administrative state. Ajit Pai, chief of the Federal Communications Commission, has scheduled an Oct. 27 vote to finalize repeal of a politicized Obama-era order turning the internet into a regulated utility. Has any furor in the history of the republic proved more fraudulent and illusory than the “death of the internet” hysteria whipped up by HBO twit John Oliver, Democrats and left-wing interest groups?
Since the Trump FCC acted, internet speeds have doubled in the U.S. The rate of new wireless cell site construction has increased sevenfold. The absence of utility-like regulation is a reason our internet, unlike Europe’s, has survived the pandemic without having to throttle speeds to accommodate millions working at home during the day and bingeing on Netflix at night.
A few modern theorists may be staring at their own chess boards, wondering how pieces started moving of their own volition. But that was always inevitable, as anyone who has read Frankenstein or Smith or Hayek would know. Imagining that we can plan great systems and have all the knowledge to control them is folly.
If you start taxing wealth and if you tax income at really high rates, you’re probably going to get less of it. But it’s not just that the super-rich will have to share their money with the rest of us. They’re going to save and invest less because the tax system is going to take some of the gains away. If that happens, it won’t just hurt the rich. It will hurt people who benefit from the savings and investment that rich people make in making the rest of us more productive.