Advancing a Free Society

Déjà Vu All Over Again

Thursday, February 10, 2011

With my colleague Bob Hall, in 1981 I began to push the flat tax as an alternative to our current, complicated, multi-bracket income tax code.  From that date through 2000, I collected every article, magazine, legislative measure, and think-tank, government agency, or academic study on the flat tax.  I stored them chronologically in plastic containers on a long shelf in my home library.  The documents numbered in the high hundreds.

Goggle and Lexus-Nexis have rendered paper storage obsolete.  So I decided to spend much of the last few weekends, excluding Super Bowl Sunday, going through the files and discarding those items that could be obtained electronically, keeping a handful of items that were unique to paper.  I then delivered bags of paper to Stanford’s recycling center.

In the course of deciding which items to keep, I looked at the title of every document.  What became clear is that every point made in the current debate on tax reform has already been analyzed and disseminated.  Nothing new has been added save more rigorous statistics and hyper-partisanship.

I suppose this is true in a number of public policy areas such as education, urban renewal, agricultural subsidies, and so on.  Still, it was disheartening to see the same old issues hashed out again with little reference to the prior decades of analysis and discussion.