The University of Chicago Magazine April 1996
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With or without Steve Forbes, the push may be on for tax reform. Chicago'sexperts say a flat tax is still worth a look.


Illustrations by Cary Henrie

Funny, isn't it, how election day falls so far on the calendar from tax day?When voters pick a new president on November 5, wounds they suffered on April15 will have had almost seven months to heal-and early-campaign promises toscrap the IRS will be buried under a half-year's worth of soundbites. In 1996,though, signs point to a tax-reform movement that may last past the elections.Beyond the single-issue "flat tax" campaign of Steve Forbes (memo to Mr.Forbes: Next time, get the elections held April 16), the campaigns of Bob Doleand his primary-season rivals have all supported some form of a flatter,fairer, and lower tax. House speaker Newt Gingrich has even suggested thatmajor tax reform may be just the theme to unify the GOP's splintering socialand economic conservatives this year.

Not that Republicans are likely to corner the market. Former and currentClintonites like Lloyd Bentsen and Leon Panetta have supported flat tax-stylereforms, and the tax bills before Congress include one sponsored by Houseminority leader Richard Gephardt and a bipartisan bill by senators Sam Nunn andPete Domenici. Common elements among the handful of proposals: lower rates, awider tax base, and a shift from taxing income toward taxing consumption.Driving them are Americans' complaints that taxes today are too complex, toohigh, and, in their unequal burden across income levels, unfair.

Do economic, law, and public-policy experts at the University of Chicago agreeto the need for tax reform? Yes, but often not for the reasons most voterscite-and not because they see reform bringing the same benefits thatpoliticians promise.

  • How low can a flat tax go?
  • Is flat fairer?
  • Simplicity: Are we already there?
  • Will this tax bridge the wage gap?
  • Will the flat tax fly?

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