Pick One

David Wessel, writing in a recent Wall Street Journal, reports that

Chief executives of more than 80 big-name US corporations…in a statement to be released on Thursday, say any fiscal plan “that can succeed both financially and politically” has to limit the growth of health-care spending, make Social Security solvent and “include comprehensive and pro-growth tax reform, which broadens the base, lowers rates, raises revenues and reduces the deficit.”

Then Wessel himself makes this remark [emphasis added]:

The declaration differs sharply from those of several other business groups, which urge Washington to deal with the deficit and avoid across-the-board spending cuts and tax increases set for year-end—but avoid any stance on the politically charged issue of raising taxes.

This is an all too common conflation of two separate questions, but it’s amazing to see it coming from a Pulitzer Prize-winning economics journalist.

Of course raising tax revenue is different from raising taxes: the latter is merely one way to achieve the former.  But Wessel compounds his confusion by repeating it:

The CEOs who signed the manifesto deem tax increases inevitable no matter which party succeeds at the polls in November. “There is no possible way; you can do the arithmetic a million different ways” to avoid raising taxes, said Mark Bertolini, CEO of Aetna.

Notice that: Wessel directly contradicts the CEOs in their statement, which he quoted above.  And then he carefully provides his confused “paraphrase” of raising taxes outside another direct quote.  Yet Wessel then notes the following:

The executives didn’t endorse Mr. Obama’s proposal to raise the marginal income-tax rates for the top 2% of taxpayers or any other proposal.  Rather, they called for an overhaul of the tax code that, among things, would eliminate or reduce deductions, credits and loopholes (known as “broadening the base”), and one that also would bring the Treasury more revenue than the existing code does.

It’s no wonder Americans are having trouble sorting through the question of tax reform when the so-called experts can’t even trouble themselves to keep matters straight in their own writings.

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