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January 29, 2012

FDL Book Salon Welcomes Bruce Bartlett, The Benefit and The Burden: Tax Reform-Why We Need It and What It Will Take

Posted in: FDL Book Salon

Welcome Bruce Bartlett (Economix), and Host James K. Galbraith (Professor, University of Texas, Austin)

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions.  Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]

The Benefit and The Burden: Tax Reform-Why We Need It and What It Will Take

I’m delighted to welcome Bruce Bartlett to Firedoglake Book Salon.

Bruce’s new book, The Benefit and the Burden is an extended essay on taxes and tax reform. It provides a breezy survey of the central issues of tax policy, with excursions into history and international comparison, and a keen eye on the political angles and how they’ve been played by both parties in recent years.

The Benefit and the Burden begins with a short history of American taxation and a description of the core issues in the definition of income. It follows with some discussion of the principal economic arguments that have flowed around the relationship between taxes, growth and fairness, and then proceeds to examine the issues surrounding preferences in our tax code – for housing, for charitable contributions, for capital gains, and the problem of taxing corporate profits. It ends with a discussion of reform proposals, and Bruce makes his case for a VAT to close the revenue gap and fund the government that we will need, among other things, to support an increasingly elderly population.

The book is not a partisan tract. Bruce has become well-known – and highly respected – for the rare trait of not-singing to any ideological choir. Open-minded readers of all persuasions will learn from this book, whether they are persuaded by the program, or not.

On a personal note, Bruce and I first met in 1981 – possibly the very end of 1980 – when I was the (much too young) newly-installed staff director of the Joint Economic Committee, under Representative Henry Reuss of Wisconsin, and he was the (equally young) deputy director, appointed by Senator Roger Jepsen of Iowa.

Ideologically, we were opposites. I was a committed Keynesian; Bruce was a supply-sider who had helped to draft Jack Kemp’s tax cut plan and was the author of a newly-published book, Reaganomics.

There was a certain amount of mutual suspicion at first. And yet, for two years we worked together, in a spirit of fair play and open debate. We helped the Joint Economic Committee to achieve a remarkable moment in its history, not through fatuous bipartisanship, but through spirited combat, carried out in hearings, studies and reports. It was great fun, and Bruce and I have been friends ever since.

Bruce left the JEC to work in the White House under President Reagan, and served in the Treasury under President George H.W. Bush. In the mid 2000s, he managed to get himself fired from the conservative National Center for Policy Analysis for writing Impostor, a magnificent tract on the non-conservatism of George W. Bush. In writing that book, he exhibited the true bravery of an independent spirit.

Recently Bruce has achieved a wide readership through regular postings at The New York Times and at The Fiscal Times, where he writes most frequently on taxes and tax reform. In that capacity, he has honed the skills on display in this fine small book.

I am therefore very pleased to note that Bruce and I have known each other for 31 years, and that – on this my 60th birthday, it’s my privilege to celebrate by hosting the Firedoglake Book Salon on his new book.

Bruce, welcome.


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