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Daily Howler: Estonia's leader read only one book. Bush fell in love with his program
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TAXES BY BORAT! Estonia’s leader read only one book. Bush fell in love with his program: // link // print // previous // next //

TAXES BY BORAT: Our analysts started when they read Sheryl Gay Stolberg’s disclosure in this morning’s Times. Bush is in love with tiny Estonia. And why not? They have a flat tax there!
STOLBERG (11/30/06): [I]f there was one thing about Estonia Mr. Bush really seemed to like, it was the Estonian flat tax. ''I appreciate the fact that you got a flat tax, you got a tax system that's transparent and simple,'' the president told Mr. Ilves when the two attended a news conference held, perhaps not coincidentally, at the National Bank of Estonia. Later, toasting Mr. Ilves at a luncheon, Mr. Bush gushed, ''I am amazed to be in a country that has been able to effect a flat tax in such a positive way.''
According to Bush, Estonia has a “flat tax”—and not only that, it’s “transparent and simple.” We’re always surprised to read such things, because no major pol in our own advanced country has ever so much as proposed a flat tax—if by that we mean a tax plan where everyone is required to submit the same percentage of income. (What else does it mean to call a plan “flat?”) In Campaign 96, Steve Forbes made the most famous “flat tax” proposal ever—and everyone agreed to use that misleading name. But uh-oh! Due to the Forbes plan’s large deductions, many families would have paid no taxes at all, and others would have paid as much as 17 percent. It’s hard to know why you’d would want to call that “flat”—except, oh wait! It’s obvious why! The so-called “flat tax”—the “flat tax” that isn’t—is one of those carefully calibrated bits of deception churned out over the past forty years by our pseudo-con think tanks. For some reason, the notion of a “flat tax” sounds good to many people—and that’s especially true when scribes like Stolberg go along with the whole bogus concept. Of course, the real kicker in the Forbes plan was this—the proposal would have drastically lowered taxes on the highest earners. That’s OK, if you want to propose such a thing. But why would you call the Forbes plan “flat?” Unless you want to steer attention away from the real proposal, we’ve never had any idea.

Does Estonia actually have a “flat tax?” A plan where everyone pays the same portion of income? We have no idea, in part because New York Times scribes feel no need to explain such matters. In September, for example, John Tierney wrote that Estonia’s former prime minister, Mart Laar, “drastically cut taxes on businesses and individuals, instituting a simple flat income tax of 26 percent.” But does the plan have deductions, as Forbes’ plan did—deductions which mean that, in actual practice, it just isn’t “flat?” Tierney didn’t say, and there’s little reason to think that such a question ever enters the heads of our big mainstream scribes. Last December, for example, Mark Landler penned this “Letter from Estonia” for the Times; in it, the Timesman went on and on about Estonia’s alleged “flat tax.” But is their flat tax actually “flat?” Or do different people pay different portions of income? Landler wrote a detailed piece. But he forgot to say.

Borats of the world, unite! As Stolberg continues, she sketches a bit of comical history—although she largely agrees not to notice. Good grief! What fools we Borats be!

STOLBERG: The flat tax, as it turns out, was the brainchild of the former prime minister, Mart Laar. Mr. Laar was inspired by the only economics book he had ever read, Milton Friedman's paean to capitalism, ''Free to Choose.'' Believing, erroneously, that the flat tax had been put into practice throughout the West, Mr. Laar introduced it to Estonia. This year, the Cato Institute, a libertarian policy organization, gave Mr. Laar its ''Milton Friedman Award of Freedom.”
Why does Bush love Estonia so? Aren’t the cultural clues fairly obvious? Having read a single book, Laar came to “believe, erroneously, that the flat tax had been put into practice throughout the West!” Now, there was a gut-level governing strategy our own Decider could quickly warm up to! Read one book—then swing into action! But then, these gentlemen’s cluelessness has long been matched by the people who write about such matters in our own great Gotham Times.

There’s little that’s really “transparent” or “simple” about our pseudo-con “flat tax” proposals. But the silly discussion of this pseudo-idea never stops—thanks, in part, to the New York Times’ Borats. Indeed, the Borats were out in force in Tallinn when the president dropped this week. But uh-oh! When a comedian thinks he may have found humor at the border between east and west, our “liberal” Church Ladies come out in full force. They tell the rude man not to notice.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: Talk about wanting to have it both ways! In Dick Armey’s unintentionally comical book, The Flat Tax, the Texan insisted, again and again, that “the flat tax is progressive.” And he was a former economics professor! See THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/11/04, with links to previous reports. (Scroll down to “Flat earth, curved tax.”)

Special report: Let’s talk Tough!

PART 3: Our timeless report continues tomorrow. For Part 1, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/28/06. For Part 2, please—just click here.