Tax Policy Made Simple

An excellent point from Ezra Klein:

For reasons that I try not to speculate on before 9am, the media likes to make policy disputes sound incredibly complicated. Much too complicated for mortals to understand, or base electoral behavior on. Take this Time article on the various tax plans floating around the election. The piece argues that the plans are composed of loosely connected soundbites, lacking numbers or details or real information. To read it, you'd think the two proposals were impossible to estimate, or understand, or in any way summarize. But they're not.

Right. The article is over 1,400 words long and mostly consists of moaning over how the candidates lack specifics or like to distort their plans or distort other people's plans. But the article itself actually contains perfectly clear-cut information about the plans it's just buried amidst tons of other verbiage.

Obama's tax plan would result in somewhat higher overall levels of federal revenue and somewhat lower tax rates for middle income people than would McCain's. McCain's tax plan would result in somewhat lower overall levels of federal revenue and substantially lower tax rates for high income people than would Obama's. The details of the plans are somewhat complicated, but the overall impact on revenues and income distribution is very easy to summarize. And, indeed, the Tax Policy Center has already done the summary in a report I know Time is aware of because it's referenced in the article. They even went through the trouble of making a chart:


Unlike Ezra, I'm willing to speculate and to be somewhat generous to author. If you read a concise, accurate summary of candidate's proposals you come away being a little bit smarter about what's happening in American politics. But if you read a cynicism-laden thing about how it's all incredibly murky and dishonest and everyone's using fuzzy numbers then you come away feeling smarter than all those clueless partisans out there yelling on behalf of McCain or Obama.