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Tuesday, May 27, 2003

John Edwards for President?

When it comes to the big guys at the top, I tend to be more interested in philosophy than specifics. In this discussion of the Democratic candidates, William Saletan states, "I've seen other candidates speak for workers and against capitalist predation, but Edwards is trying to do something more ambitious: to reclaim the virtues of capitalism."

On John Edwards' official site, the text of his Economic Policy Address At The Fortune Global Forum has this:
First, we should eliminate tax shelters that serve little or no purpose but to provide a legal way for companies to hide their income. Too many people benefit from America's public investments and capital markets and then renounce their citizenship to avoid paying their fair share. That is a disgrace, and it certainly shouldn't be legal. Companies shouldn't be allowed to deposit their officers' salaries in offshore accounts, so their officers can avoid taxes. And American companies should not be allowed to set up virtual headquarters in foreign countries that are hardly more than mailboxes so they can hide profits earned in America.

Second, we should put an end to one of the most distasteful practices the tax code allows - the deduction for life insurance that companies take out on their nonexecutive employees. Companies get billions of dollars in tax breaks by buying policies on thousands of secretaries and janitors who never see a dime of those benefits. Even if the company lays these folks off, they can maintain the policy, get a tax break for doing so, actually collect on the policy when the former employee dies, and get another tax break on top of that. The employees and their families often don't get a dime. The government should not be subsidizing companies to get tax breaks when their former secretaries die. It is economically pointless, it is morally perverse, and it should stop.

Third, we need to make sure that businesses and wealthy investors are held to the same standard as ordinary Americans when it comes to following our tax laws. Something is wrong when a poor working family is four times more likely to be audited than a corporation. Something is wrong when the White House is seeking to muzzle an IRS commissioner who has a simple warning: some fortunate but unscrupulous people are breaking our laws with virtual certainty they won't get caught. We can and we should save law-abiding citizens billions of dollars by requiring fair enforcement of our tax laws.

Finally, we need to take on the political obstacle course of corporate subsides. Washington isn't very good at this kind of thing, and that's why I think Senator McCain and Congressman Gephardt's proposal to establish a commission that will present a complete package for an up or down vote - like the Base Closing Commission - is a good idea.

Pro-capitalist populism? Populist tax reform? My goal as a "leftist" is not to end capitalism: My goal is to make everyone a capitalist. This is not yet an endorsement, but consider me leaning towards Edwards.

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