The Clark tax reform plan

Campaign-generated “big ideas” are mostly bad ideas, both because they haven’t had enough staff work and because designing policy to fit into 30-second spots usually has bad results. So I lost some sleep over the weekend worrying about what sort of “domestic signature issue” Wesley Clark’s people had dreamed up.

Against that background, what actually emerged looks amazingly good, at least at first blush. (I’m waiting for the experts to tell me whether the arithmetic works.)

Given the very large increases in income inequality over the past decade or so, and in particular the spectacular gains at the very top, it makes all kinds of sense to boost tax rates for the insanely wealthy; the old argument that doing so wouldn’t raise much money is simply no longer true.

And it makes both political sense and policy sense to focus tax relief on families with children, especially since a refundable credit is an income-support payment by another name. (I say this as a childless person, though one willing to change that status at any time if I can get the necessary cooperation in doing so. It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of tenure and a widely-read weblog must be in want of a wife.)

Social Security has largely solved the problem of profound poverty among the elderly, which is an accomplishment to be proud of. But poverty among the very young has horrible consequences, even beyond the direct suffering it inflicts. And the claim that every child ought to get a decent start in life is much more obviously valid on moral grounds than the claim that incomes among adults ought to be equalized, simply because there’s no plausible argument for making children suffer for the misfortune or improvidence of their parents.

Of course, introducing what seems like a good idea as a plank in a primary campaign platform has the disadvantage of discouraging non-supporters of the candidate in question from endorsing the idea, lest they be seen as endorsing the candidate. But I hope that the other Democrats in the race, and especially the one who keeps talking about representing the Democratic wing of the party, will at least refrain from criticizing what seems to be an eminently Democratic idea.

Update Readers point out that Jeffrey Liebman of the Kennedy School and Laura Tyson, Dean of the LSE and former Chair of the CEA both vetted the plan before it appeared. So there’s no reason to doubt that it adds up.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: