Tuesday, April 20, 2010

An Inconvenient Tax

Attended the screening last night, then briefly spoke on a panel with Lee Sheppard and filmmaker Vincent Vittorio. In the movie itself, I got to talk about the "dead cat" phenomenon that led to enactment of the Tax Reform Act of 1986 (i.e,. even lawmakers who hated tax reform didn't want the "dead cat" on their doorstep), and a bit about tax reform and income vs. consumption taxation.

Of course, what's a movie appearance without complaining about the great material that the filmmakers left on the cutting room floor. In my case, this might have involved discussing the long-term U.S. fiscal situation, on which I no doubt (reflecting my views) said something alarming. They covered the issue, but no Shaviro clips in that part of the movie. So no "Best Supporting Actor" nominations for me ...

The movie was remarkably entertaining given the potentially dense subject, with lots of amusing interspersed bits from 1950s low-budget sci fi and homemaker training films, etc. Suitable for lay audiences, including high school students who are learning about civics and our political institutions. The filmmakers did a great job laying out some basics of the history of the federal income tax, the political reasons why it's so terrible, etc.

Inevitably, on the topic of tax reform (e.g., what significant changes we might make), while the film laid out some basic options, it couldn't explore them in depth - that would have been impossible without losing the audience. One also could argue that the complexity problems it discussed are becoming more tolerable for individual filers in the era of Turbo Tax. Too bad they didn't have Joe Bankman talking about Ready Return. But nonetheless two thumbs up (from both the left and the right).

I noted in the discussion afterward that, even though experts disagree about the ranking of alternative tax reform options, they actually would have little trouble agreeing to something everyone would agree was way better than the current system, if given the authority to decide on something. Expert dissensus is in a much narrower range. And one of the striking things about watching the movie is that one sees Noam Chomsky on the one hand and Dick Armey and Mike Huckabee on the other, and generally feels that most of what they are saying across this broad range is both reasonable and largely consistent.

Alas, the relative consensus of the experts does not count for much here. That plus a $2 Metrocard will get you on the NYC subway, but that's about it.

No comments: