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The Flat Tax: Etymology and Practical Considerations

By Jon McGoran  Posted by Josh Mitteldorf (about the submitter)     Permalink
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Among the big stories this month is an EPA proposal to tax large livestock operations based on the greenhouse-effect methane emitted by their livestock (kind of like a carbon hoof-print). Critics say this could bankrupt even “modest ranches,” which seems especially unfair, since the modest ones are probably holding it in. Other concerns are that if meat prices rise and consumption goes down, people will seek protein from other sources, like beans. While beans are inarguably better for your heart (in fact, it is said that the more you eat them, the better you feel), their consumption in humans has effects that essentially bring us back to square one.

And if taxing bovine flatulence is awkward, imagine taxing the human version. The idea of a flatulence tax, or “Flat Tax,” has been around for many years. Since everyone “does it,” and would presumably be taxed, it has become shorthand for any tax proposal whereby everyone pays the same amount. Some say this is precisely the type of tax that should not be flat; why, for example, should a Gwyneth Paltrow pay the same as a Jim Belushi? Others warn that anything but the simplest structure would bring up all sorts of questions about deductions and loopholes. It will give whole new meaning to the question, “Do you have something to declare?” Blaming the dog would become a form of tax fraud, and tax lawyers would invoke the “He who smelt it” doctrine.

Even more problematic is the likelihood that once  instituted, such a tax would be expanded. Drastic spikes in taxable emissions would be taxed at a higher rate, so that if you suddenly come into a lot of money and celebrate
with a rich, spicy meal, you might end up having to pay a Windfall Tax.
Finally, proposals like this could imbue the New Year new meaning, while some of us will feel we can finally relax, the rest will be left to hope those are fireworks going off at the stroke of midnight.


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