How does one slay the oppressive and rapidly expanding behemoth known as our federal government? Is it even possible? What role does tax policy have to do with the federal government's growth and even our collective, societal behavior? Fascinating questions that author, blogger, Virginian, former Family Research Council tax policy director, speech writer for former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao and all-round brilliant thinker Leslie Carbone addresses in her new book, Slaying Leviathan: The Moral Case for Tax Reform (Potomac Books). Ms. Carbone spoke to the Tuesday Morning Group Coalition this morning in downtown Richmond. Ms. Carbone comes at her perspective with a Christian point of view and a federalism philosophy. She pointedly dissected the counter productive — and immoral — nature of our tax system and argued for the moral superiority of a simple and fair overhaul that does not discriminate. As she writes in the introduction to Slaying Leviathan:
In a republican society, seemingly large fortunes make easy targets. While the hard work, risk-taking, and discipline required to create them often go unnoticed, the fortunes themselves provoke great interest. Estate homes offer tours to middle-class travelers; magazines feature glowing articles and glossy photographs extolling the priceless possessions, lavish parties, and rare license of the privileged class. A popular television series glorified the Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. It requires no gift of uncommon insight to grasp how such exaltation would provoke resentment among the less privileged. Regrettably, rarer is the recognition that such resentment is corrosive to the individual whose character is marred by it, and not the sort of thing that public policy should reward.
Owing to this lack of understanding, progressive taxation has grown throughout the past century fed by such envy, which the great American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow called “the vice of republics.” Demagogues turn the law, which should protect the virtuous, into a tool for rewarding evil. To do so is to use the law to undermine its own purpose. Law is rightly an instrument of justice. Because the law is a teacher, using it to take from some simply because they have more than others inevitably sanctions this injustice. Such injustice has natural moral consequences.
Ms. Carbone advocates for a "tax policy rooted in natural justice." She weaves together a history of U.S. tax policy (from the Stamp Act to the Bush tax cuts), as well as federal government spending and the expectations it has created, along with an assessment of our tax burden and the fundamental problems with U.S. tax policy.
Interestingly, however, she doesn't advocate for either a flat tax or a fair tax. Instead, she is more interested in getting the debate to where Americans demand something different, at which point the flat and fair tax debate can begin. To the extent that there is a debate now between those two options, those discussions derail the waking of America to the horrors of the current system and fail to create the critical mass that can bring true reform.
The moral component of taxation is rarely discussed, but it should be. Nothing corrodes our economic thinking and breeds corruption (by those hoping to avoid taxes and by those who create the loopholes to benefit outcomes they prefer to see at the expense of other results) than a tax code designed by statists who think governmental piety can solve all problems. In fact, they have made problems worse (illegitimacy, poverty, dependency, you name it) in the spending of other people's money. Taxing it in particular ways is the other half of that equation.
In an age when America faces numerous assaults on its fabric by policies that will further increase expectations of entitlement to the detriment of the endeavor that creates broader prosperity and less hand wringing over other people, Ms. Carbone's Slaying Leviathan is one book I look forward to reading (reviews, more info here). With more voices such as hers, maybe politicians and their enablers will learn that government cannot manipulate the economy to achieve biased outcomes without generating the resentment and class warfare they profess to distaste.