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Pawlenty's Boring Radicalism

One consequence of the ongoing crazification of the Republican Party is that the standards have now adjusted such that a figure like Tim Pawlenty can propose an economic plan that's utterly bonkers and still be considered boring and mainstream. (Ezra Klein goes through the nutty assumptions, which revolve around the classic supply-side tropes of proposing massive tax cuts, assuming unprecedented long-term growth, and waving away any fiscal ramifications.)

I'll add that Pawlenty's tax plan is more radical than even his critics think. Pawlenty proposes to collapse the tax code into two brackets, 10% and 25%. How little revenue is that? 

The 1986 Tax Reform Act created two tax brackets, 15% and 28%. That tax system raised not nearly enough revenue to fund the government, and the next two presidents had to raise taxes in order to get the spiraling deficit under control. Pawlenty would have even lower rates. What's more, Reagan's tax reform eliminated preferential treatment for capital gains and dividends, taxing them at the same rate as other kinds of income. Pawlenty would eliminate taxes on that form of income altogether, opening up massive loopholes and providing a huge windfall to the affluent.

Ramesh Ponnuru shrugs at this part of the plan:

I like that Pawlenty would radically reduce the overtaxation of savings and investment. The capital-gains tax, the estate tax, the interest-income tax, and the dividend tax would all be gone. We’d basically have a consumption tax.

Actually, this isn't a consumption tax. A consumption tax makes you pay on any income you consume. So, under a consumption tax, Paris Hilton wouldn't pay anything when she sells her family stock, but she would pay some kind of tax when she starts buying cars and tiny, precious dogs.

Pawlenty's plan has no mechanism for taxing consumption. All it does is take the income tax and eliminate all the taxes on income from capital. That makes it a wage tax. The difference is crucial, because many economists believe a consumption tax could be more efficient than an income tax, they believe the opposite of a wage tax:

A consumption tax that exempts old assets is just a tax on future wages. And the same studies that show that a consumption tax (which taxes all old capital assets) is more efficient than an income tax also show that a wage tax is less efficient than an income tax-because not taxing capital requires higher tax rates on wages to raise the same revenue and hence distorts people’s work decisions more.

So this is just your basic supply-side pixie dust plan, sprinkling massive windfall gains on the rich, not bothering to make the numbers add up and assuming implausibly high economic benefits will result. The interesting thing is that Pawlenty's version of voodoo economics is more radical than George Bush's 2000 version of voodoo economics, which was in turn more radical than Bob Dole's 1996 version of voodoo economics, which was itself totally nuts.