Viewpoint: Cain’s 9-9-9 plan makes no ‘cents’

By Joshua Madden
A&E Editor

I’m not going to make a joke about pizza here because I’m really, really tired of everyone else making the same stupid jokes. So I’m just going to say what needs to be said.

Herman Cain’s “9-9-9 plan” is a bad idea, arguably even a terrible one. It’s certainly one of the worst ideas to be seriously discussed in the public arena in recent memory.

It’s well-intentioned, and it’s simple. But that’s kind of the whole problem. Taxes aren’t simple, and making them simple for simplicity’s sake isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Just because something lends itself nicely to a clever slogan doesn’t mean it makes good policy. There is a reason that people get graduate degrees in economics and taxation – these are not simple concepts.

Does anyone, even for a second, think that the universe created itself in such a way that the best way to institute tax policy is to create three taxes posted at 9 percent each? That there’s something magical about the number nine?

Of course not. It’s a plan for the sake of being a plan. Imagine if other people in other parts of the government wanted to do this. Picture the secretary of defense saying, “Well, I’d like to introduce my 9-9-9-9 plan. We’ll be giving 9 percent of the federal budget to the Air Force, 9 percent to the Army, 9 percent to the Navy and 9 percent to the Marines.”

Would anyone support that? No one would reasonably argue that their needs are that perfectly distributed and that each of those groups deserves exactly 9 percent. Some may need more, some may need less.

You wouldn’t take an episode of “Jersey Shore” and an episode of “Charlie Rose” and argue that they should be treated in the same way simply because they are both TV shows. This is because they are very different programs with very different goals and very different audiences. They are designed to be different.

In the same way, there’s nothing magical about taxes. A national sales tax would be radically different from a federal income tax or from a corporate tax, yet they would all be posted at 9 percent.

The amount of income generated by such a plan would be, at best, unpredictable – exactly how much each family will spend on a sales tax will inevitably vary from year to year. Yet it, like the national income tax, would be posted at 9 percent. They’re all posted at 9 percent despite their inherent differences.

Cain cannot even guarantee that these taxes are going to stay at 9 percent.

Let’s remember that this is a plan that splits major national taxation into two forms – an income tax and a sales tax, so now, instead of just one type of tax to raise rates on, Congress has two.

To assume that Congress won’t raise both is to willfully disregard pretty much everything Congress has ever done.

So not only is the revenue inconsistent and unpredictable, but so are the actual rates being discussed. Unless Cain plans on amending the Constitution to include the “9-9-9 plan” directly in the text – which would be an act of idiocy of unparalleled proportions and would never actually happen – the plan will vary with the whims of Congress.

Whenever people realize that evenly distributing taxation across inherently uneven forms of taxation is a bad idea, people will be able to see the “9-9-9 plan” for the lunacy that it is.

Until then, I guess we can all keep making stupid pizza jokes and pretending that it isn’t genuinely scary how many people think this is actually a good idea.

Joshua Madden is a graduate student in information systems from Olathe, Kan., and is the Lariat’s A&E Editor.