Monday, July 29, 2019

Interview: Walter Block says the "only fair tax is a zero tax"

Editor's note: This article was originally published on January 26, 2017.

This is the fifth article in a six-part series featuring the views of Walter Block. The firstsecond, third, and fourth pieces are available on-line.

Story by Joseph Ford Cotto

"Like I've said before .... polls are only good for strippers and cross-country skiers," Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin told Fox News host Bill O'Reilly two days before last year’s presidential election.

While I have criticized her more than a fair bit during years gone by, it is undeniable that she turned out to be a sage among pundits.

When Palin made her remark, virtually all national opinion surveys – save two highly important yet conspicuously underreported ones – indicated an impending win for Hillary Clinton. Reuters predicted she was set to win 247 electoral votes outright and favored to seize so many more that her chance of victory hovered at 90 percent.

At the Princeton Election Consortium, Dr. Sam Wang – a neuroscientist and prolific author – declared that Clinton enjoyed a 99 percent probability of winning. The platinum-grade forecaster Moody's Analytics also claimed she would triumph in the Electoral College.

United Press International, in conjunction with the polling group CVoter, reported that her Electoral College lead over Trump was substantial: 259 to 209.

After the race was called, Clinton barely eked out 232 votes. Her vaunted 'firewall' of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin crumbled into ash. Only Minnesota and New Hampshire stood -- and not by any means tall. Clinton struggled to win either, despite the former having gone to every Democratic nominee since Richard Nixon's 1972 earth-slide over George McGovern.

Just a few hours earlier, Clinton fans were jubilant over her seemingly assured victory. By the morning after, perhaps more tears were shed than at any other time in twenty-first century America.

What is the moral to this story?

Above and beyond all other factors, something is not impossible simply because the smartest guys and gals in the room – or at least those who perceive themselves as such – claim it is. While the self-appointed experts are accustomed to seeing a handful of their predictions go south, such as who will win a House seat or state legislative majority, they were not prepared to flub on so epic a scale as the U.S. presidency.

Experts are often far from that, and folks should not fall for a line simply because the person uttering it has impressive academic credentials, grand titles of office, or friends among the in-crowd. Results, not rhetoric, are what matter.

Now, many of the same experts who declared Trump unelectable will undoubtedly claim that serious revisions to federal tax law are impossible – too difficult to work out politically and beyond the conscience of concerned, civilized citizens.

Determining a ‘fair share’ of tax revenue quickly becomes more than a conversation of dollars and cents.

“The only fair tax is a zero tax. Taxes are compulsory levies on innocent people. The less we have of this pernicious institution, the better,” Dr. Walter Block tells me. He is the Harold E. Wirth Eminent Scholar Endowed Chair in Economics – how is that for an accomplished title? – at Loyola University New Orleans’s J.A. Butt School of Business.

Block is also the author of Defending the Undefendable, a bestseller from 1976 which conservative journo Marcus Epstein said portrays “pimps, drug dealers, blackmailers, corrupt policemen, and loan sharks as 'economic heroes'.” In more flattering terms, John Stossel claimed it introduced him “to the beauties of libertarianism. It explains that so much of what is assumed to be evil – is not.”

As Block is an Austrian School economist with solid anarcho-capitalist cred, not to mention a senior fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Institute, and an uncompromising individualist, it is unlikely that he cares about what the peanut gallery has to say concerning his philosophy.

Speaking of radical change – at least from the last eight years – Donald Trump’s administration promises to breathe new life into federal politics. Should his economic proposals bring typical Americans higher wages?

“Generally speaking, yes,” Block says. “Certainly, his proposals to lower tax rates, particularly on corporations, would be welcome. However, his anti-free trade rhetoric is clearly counter-productive. Foreign policy is not usually considered under the rubric of ‘economic proposals,’ but if he pulls back troops from Europe, Korea, Japan, etc., this will raise typical American’s real wages.

“Why? Because right now, all these solders are not contributing anything to our economic or any other well-being. If they were brought back to the U.S., and dismissed from the military, they would be freed up to create more goods and services for all of us, thus increasing everyone’s real wages.”

Tomorrow brings the final chapter in my discussion with Block. In it, we discuss the future of libertarian politics inside the GOP and whether America playing a larger or smaller role in the global economy.

See you then!