Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Hyman Flat Wrong on Flat Tax

Who would have thunk it? Mark Hyman advocates soaking the rich by taxing them more in his latest commentary. Has he become a card-carrying liberal?

Heavens, no. Rather, he plays the same cynical game he’s played many times before: conflating tax fairness with tax flatness. By doing this, he advocates for
a tax system that would benefit the wealthy, but sell it to a middle-class audience as a way to get the rich to pay their fair share.

Hyman quotes figures from the right-wing think tank, the Tax Foundation, on what filling out taxes costs Americans in terms of money and time. He then runs out to the barn and fashions a straw man argument that doesn’t pass the giggle test:

Critics claim a fair and simple tax code would burden the poor and benefit the

No one has said that. What any number of economists, tax lawyers, and other experts have argued is that a flat tax would benefit the wealthy. But fairness and flatness aren’t the same thing. As we’ve noted here many, many times before, you can have an incredibly simple tax code requiring only a postcard-size return and have it still be progressive (i.e., fair). By the same token, a “flat tax “(which is what Hyman finally cops to promoting at the very end of the commentary) can still be plenty complex.

More importantly, a flat tax (more properly called a work tax, since it taxes income earned through labor), at least in just about any version of it that’s been seriously put forward, such as that by presidential campaign hobbyist Steve Forbes, would end
up taxing the income of wealthy Americans at a lower effective rate than the current system (and, by the way, explode the national debt).

That, of course, is why the leading proponents of a flat tax system are almost exclusively wealthy individuals.

Just to add a particularly Hymanesque bit of ugliness to the proceedings, Hyman chooses Teresa Heinz Kerry as his poster child for the wealthy not paying their fair share. He closes by saying,

Under a flat tax, Mrs. John Kerry would have paid her fair share. That is why
her husband opposes a fair tax system.

No, she wouldn’t, and no, he doesn’t. Hyman’s right that the Byzantine tax code is as complicated as it is primarily as a way of helping the wealthy shelter their money. But a flat tax doesn’t correct this problem. It just makes the sheltering easier and broader. And while most conservatives excoriated Kerry as someone who would “punish success” by rolling back Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy, Hyman charges him with the crime of protecting the wealthy from paying their fair share.

This isn’t because Hyman is some sort of iconoclast in conservative circles. He doesn’t buy his own argument. Rather, it’s simply a way of combining a jab at Kerry (and, by proxy, Democrats) in the context of arguing for a flat tax. It makes no difference if this contradicts earlier attacks, or if the substance of the charge (i.e., protecting the wealthy) is actually precisely what Hyman himself is doing.

In the cynical world of Mark Hyman, whatever sounds good at the moment is fine. Don’t mind the contradictions, and for God’s sake, don’t take the truth into consideration. Hyman believes his audience is too dumb to know or care. In fact, he’s counting on it.

Let’s hope Hyman is as wrong about this as he is about most things.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 4.69


At 2:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Remington wrote: "In the cynical world of Mark Hyman, whatever sounds good at the moment is fine. Don’t mind the contradictions, and for God’s sake, don’t take the truth into consideration. Hyman believes his audience is too dumb to know or care. In fact, he’s counting on it."

Unfounded opinion not supported by facts.

At 11:55 AM, Blogger Ted Remington said...

On the contrary, I pointed out that in this commentary alone, Hyman contradicted his usual argument that lower taxes are always good, that he drew a false equation between the fairness and flatness of a tax system, that he argued that a flat tax would raise taxes on the wealthy when in fact (as its supporters themselves point out) it would lower them, and that Hyman himself made the unwarranted assertion that John Kerry did not want to pass a "fair" tax because it would hurt the finances of his wife (an assertion that goes directly against the longstanding conservative cricism of Kerry as a someone who would raise taxes, particularly on the wealthy).

Given these contradictions, the claim that Hyman assumes a high level of ignorance among his audience is supported by the facts. His arguments simply wouldn't make any sense if he assumed his audiene was aware of the details of what a flat tax was or even his own previous commentaries about taxes.

It's not necessarily the only *possible* explanation (one could argue, for instance, that Hyman is mentally ill, suffereing from memory loss, etc.). But it is a conclusion that is not only supported by the facts, but certainly seems the most likely.

However, if you have an alternative explanation for Hyman's flip-flopping and misstatement of fact, I'm certainly willing to hear it.


At 3:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sound like a song is in order.
(with some apologies to Sting)

Just a castaway, an island lost at sea, oh
Another lonely day, with no one here but me, oh
More loneliness than any man could bear
Rescue me before I fall into despair, oh

I'll send an S.O.S. to the world
I'll send an S.O.S. to the world
I hope that someone gets my
I hope that someone gets my
I hope that someone gets my
Message in a bottle, yeah
Message in a bottle, yeah...

At 3:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I understand Anon's comments, but you did a great job of exposing Hyman again in your Counterpoint and your response.
Thanks, and keep bustin' Hyman.
Mike B. in SC
P.S. I hope you left Stephen Colbert a thank-you note for his performance at the White House Correspondents' Dinner at -

At 9:50 AM, Blogger Ted Remington said...

I think Anon2 is suggesting that Anon1 needs to get a life.

And yes, I highly recommend sending a shout out to Mr. Colbert. I have, and I'll probably post a link to the website on the blog later today.

Thanks Mike!


At 1:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Anon 2 might have been trying to be too subtle in the "SOS" lyric!


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