Mitt Romney's Etch-a-Sketch Draws a Losing Picture

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Though he's now a certain first-ballot of Hall of Famer thanks to his three Super Bowl wins as coach of the New England Patriots, Bill Belichick wasn't always Bill Belichick. Having failed in the ‘90s with the Cleveland Browns, he resuscitated his career with a second stint working under Bill Parcells such that the New York Jets hired him as head coach when Parcells resigned.

Notably, not long after being hired by the Jets, Belichick quit. Later in Sports Illustrated he alluded to unhappiness with Jets management, and as he felt it was a barrier to success, Belichick quickly resigned given his view that if he failed once more, he would never be a head coach in the NFL again.

All of which brings us to Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee for president. There's perhaps a Belichick lesson for Republicans so eager to remove President Obama from the White House in favor of Romney.

The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday on a speech Romney gave to potential donors down in Palm Beach. One of his campaign handlers recently used Etch-a-Sketch imagery to suggest Romney's intent to reset his message once the nomination was sealed, and perhaps not surprisingly Romney did just that on Sunday.

But first, the good in his talk should be noted. Though reductions in the price of work and investment success (income taxes and capital gains taxes) often lead to higher revenues (for good or bad) for the Treasury, Romney talked up tax deductions he would eliminate or limit in order to pay for his "tax cuts" on income and capital gains. Romney should be lauded there, as should any politician. "Deductions" are deceptive, and they hide the greater truth that they're nothing more than a subsidy doled out by politicians eager to achieve certain outcomes through tax code engineering.

If some semblance of tax fairness is the goal, all deductions should be abolished, and Romney should be credited for broaching the subject of elimination with regard to mortgage interest, state income tax, and state property taxes. Simply put, it's a shame that the tax code has become a massive tribute to industrial policy whereby those who do what politicians want get deductions, and those who don't pay the full freight. Though a consumption tax that would allow the citizenry to limit the federal government's revenue intake would be ideal, some form of flat tax free of behavior control from Congress would be a worthy compromise.

Of course the problem was that Romney didn't stop with his desire to eliminate tax subsidies. Instead, he took a page from President Obama's class warfare playbook in promising that the subsidies would only be eliminated for high earners. At first glance it's apparent that as it applies to tax simplification, Romney speaks with a forked tongue. Behavioral control by the feds is surely bad, but only to the extent that one is not rich. If well to do, the tax code will remain a bludgeon.

Obama was quoted last week as saying something along the absurd lines that economic energy from the U.S. emanates from the bottom, thus explaining his desire to tax high earners, and Romney seems to be channeling much the same. As he stated earlier in his campaign, "I'm not concerned about the very rich, they're doing just fine. I'm concerned about the very heart of the America, the 90, 95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling and I'll continue to take that message across the nation." Neither candidate gets it.

Indeed, much as it might feel good for us 99 percenters to buy into the screaming falsehood that our efforts are the driver of economic advancement, the greater truth that is we, in the words of the late Warren Brookes, "are all blessed by the genius of the relatively few." Truer words have rarely ever been written.

Though it might cheer us to proclaim that "America's strength emanates from the enterprising middle", or "from working Americans", the reality is that it's people like Jeff Bezos, FedEx's Fred Smith and the late Steve Jobs who come up with the big ideas, raise the capital necessary to execute them, employ us, and with their success make our lives infinitely better. Given this tautology, politicians who say we needn't worry about the rich are really saying "we'll be a nuisance to the rich, and for doing so, we'll make the middle class and poor worse off."

By virtue of being wealthy, the enterprising vital few at the top of the economic pyramid once again start the businesses that change the world, and employ millions to help them carry out their grand visions. As such, a tax code that penalizes financial success is one that even more cruelly penalizes those properly eager to work for those most able - meaning the top 1 percent and those who aspire to it - to create wealth.

Assuming the rich choose to lay idle with an eye on a life of luxury, they remain society's greatest benefactors for their unspent wealth serving as seed capital for today's and tomorrow's rising entrepreneurs. There are no companies and no jobs without investment, so to penalize those with the most to invest is to illogically put a bull's eye on the 99% that Obama and Romney claim to want to want to help.

Back to Belichick, his decision to shun the then feckless ownership of the Jets meant that he eventually got to work for an owner (Bob Kraft) with a clue, and he he's got 3 Super Bowl rings to show for his patience. Mitt Romney, as evidenced by his anti-dollar China bashing combined with class warfare tax views, does not possess the growth vision necessary to right the economy. That in mind, Republicans might ask if another Republican president as economically hopeless as George W. Bush is potentially worth a generation-long White House drought for the GOP.

John Tamny is editor of RealClearMarkets, Political Economy editor at Forbes, a Senior Fellow in Economics at Reason Foundation, and a senior economic adviser to Toreador Research and Trading ( He's the author of Who Needs the Fed?: What Taylor Swift, Uber and Robots Tell Us About Money, Credit, and Why We Should Abolish America's Central Bank (Encounter Books, 2016), along with Popular Economics: What the Rolling Stones, Downton Abbey, and LeBron James Can Teach You About Economics (Regnery, 2015). 

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