NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Liberal Case For A Flat Tax

May 31, 2000

On May 28, one of America's most liberal newspapers unequivocally endorsed the flat tax, using arguments it had previously ridiculed when offered by conservatives. For example, this liberal paper dismissed the argument that a flat tax would erode progressivity, saying, "in a society where few people pay anything close to their legally required taxes, and wealthy individuals often pay no tax, the idea of a progressive tax code is an illusion."

The paper making these remarkable comments was the New York Times, supporting the flat tax put forward by Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Times' editors may have read an article in the Times' Sunday magazine on January 9, 2000, by former New Republic editor Andrew Sullivan, which argued for a flat tax on liberal grounds.

  • Sullivan said the tax code's complexity creates new opportunities for tax savings by those who can afford high-priced lawyers and accountants.
  • He thinks redistribution of income is best done on the spending side of the budget, and the tax system should just be used to raise the necessary revenue in the simplest and most efficient manner.
  • Therefore, Sullivan believes that the flat tax actually can further the liberal agenda.

The flat tax essentially is a liberal idea. Unfortunately, only former California Governor Jerry Brown, in his 1992 run for the Democratic presidential nomination, has been willing to raise the liberal case for the flat tax on the national political stage thus far.

Al Gore's presidential campaign has been criticized for lacking bold new ideas. If Gore were to support a flat tax -- something Bush has declined to do -- it could give him the issue he needs to show voters he is willing to challenge the status quo and put forward a big, new idea, as Bush has done with Social Security privatization.

Source: Bruce Bartlett, senior fellow, National Center for Policy Analysis, May 31, 2000.


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