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The IRS Suicide Pilot And Donald Trump

Joseph Stack, who flew his plane into an IRS building, turns out to hold a greivance against... the Tax Reform Act of 1986. Yes, I know -- your first guess for the issue that set him off was going to be SCHIP expansion.

But the 1986 tax reform turns out to be something of a magnet for political loons. In 1999, Donald Trump noisily pondering a presidential run, centering on the issue of his opposition to that measure. It turned out to be a flimsy basis for a populist insurgency.

I wrote about this forgotten comic episode in a 1999 Diarist. Here's the relevant portion:

The basis for Trump's candidacy, aside from his opposition to Buchanan, is the tired conceit of the businessman-hero: "Having prevailed over a severe (and largely government-created) setback in my own industry, I know the tough decisions a chief executive has to make to return to prosperity." Of course, the life-metaphor argument also suggests another possibility: that, if we elected Trump, he would take the best years of our national life and then dump us to go be president of a younger, more beautiful country, such as Fiji.
Trump's candidacy is actually quite remarkable--it manages to embody all of populism's bombastic ignorance without including any of its reformist impulses. On the one issue about which he has a strong and well-formed view, Trump is aligned with the Beltway's lobbying elite. His core belief, which he brings up at every opportunity, is that all the world's evils stem from the Tax Reform Act of 1986. This is a strange bogeyman for a member of the Reform Party. The Tax Reform Act was a remarkable triumph of populism and reformism. It wiped out thousands of special loopholes and exemptions in the tax code and then used the proceeds to cut tax rates almost in half. Just about every economist, from right to left, approves of this measure; when there are too many loopholes in the tax code, businesses make decisions on the basis of tax law, which creates inefficient drag on the free market. This is what happened during the early '80s in real estate. The tax incentives for commercial real estate were so generous that they encouraged developers to construct buildings purely for tax purposes, even if nobody would lease them. It was a classic horror story of a centrally planned economy: the government was paying people such as Trump to build empty, useless office towers. The Tax Reform Act eliminated these subsidies and used the savings to lower tax rates across the board, resulting in a fairer, more efficient system--and forcing Trump off the federal teat. Trump is so bitter about this that last May he penned an op-ed attacking Bill Bradley for having championed tax reform 13 years earlier. Tax reform was "one of the worst ideas in recent history," wrote Trump. "When sweeping changes are abruptly enacted, as they were by Mr. Bradley, it puts those businesses in a bad spot." Cue the violin: "People who were banking their retirement on a condominium or a house saw their dreams destroyed. It was a hard time for developers like me." Yes, forcing people to create things that have actual economic value can be cruel. The Reform Party already has Buchanan to shelter factory workers from the ravages of capitalism. Somebody has to speak for the endangered real estate mogul.