Election 2012

NPR's Planet Money Endorses Gary Johnson for President


NPR endorsed?

Not exactly, but more closely than one might expect. The producers of Planet Money are running a terrific series in which they asked a panel of economists whose views span the political spectrum what policies they think the perfect presidential candidate should adopt. It turns out that a lot of them echo the policy proposals of Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson. So what did Planet Money's panel of five economists agree on:

One: Eliminate the mortgage tax deduction, which lets homeowners deduct the interest they pay on their mortgages. Gone. After all, big houses get bigger tax breaks, driving up prices for everyone. Why distort the housing market and subsidize people buying expensive houses?

Two: End the tax deduction companies get for providing health-care to employees. Neither employees nor employers pay taxes on workplace health insurance benefits. That encourages fancier insurance coverage, driving up usage and, therefore, health costs overall. Eliminating the deduction will drive up costs for people with workplace healthcare, but makes the health-care market fairer.

Three: Eliminate the corporate income tax. Completely. If companies reinvest the money into their businesses, that's good. Don't tax companies in an effort to tax rich people.

Four: Eliminate all income and payroll taxes. All of them. For everyone. Taxes discourage whatever you're taxing, but we like income, so why tax it? Payroll taxes discourage creating jobs. Not such a good idea. Instead, impose a consumption tax, designed to be progressive to protect lower-income households.

Five: Tax carbon emissions. Yes, that means higher gasoline prices. It's a kind of consumption tax, and can be structured to make sure it doesn't disproportionately harm lower-income Americans. More, it's taxing something that's bad, which gives people an incentive to stop polluting.

Six: Legalize marijuana. Stop spending so much trying to put pot users and dealers in jail — it costs a lot of money to catch them, prosecute them, and then put them up in jail. Criminalizing drugs also drives drug prices up, making gang leaders rich.

All right, Johnson doesn't endorse all of these proposals, but he certainly does favor eliminating the corporate and individual income taxes and the payroll tax. As part of the plan to flatten taxes for everybody it could make sense to get rid of the health insurance and mortgage interest deductions. Johnson is against a carbon tax (and cap-and-trade), but such a tax could again be part of the overall tax reform package that switches to consumption taxes from the current recondite system of income taxes. In fact, a savvy politician who wants to rein in the size of government might favor a non-revenue-neutral carbon tax that takes in less revenue than the income taxes being replaced. And finally, all five economists endorse Johnson's view that the Drug War is a complete travesty.

For background, go here and here for some criticisms of Johnson's Fair Tax proposal.