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The Referendum Candidate; Who is Lawrence Lessig?

October 29, 2015

By: Patrick Custer- Expert Access Participant

“Fixing democracy can’t wait.” This is the slogan of Lawrence Lessig, a Harvard Law professor running on a single issue platform in his bid for the 2016 Democratic Presidential Nomination. His only goal, if he were to become the next President, is to “fix democracy” through comprehensive campaign reform via passage of the Citizens Equality Act of 2017. The most fascinating, and abnormal, aspect of Lessig’s campaign—aside from the fact that it is a single issue campaign—is that following the passage of his sponsored bill, he has said he would resign from office, allowing the elected Vice President assume the role of President. He would become the first referendum, or single issue, president in American history. While this is an interesting take on how to enact comprehensive campaign reform, the realistic possibility that he would win his party’s nomination, let alone the general election, is very scarce. Regardless, the essence of his campaign and his plans concerning reforming the current campaign practices are still worth examining.

His reformation bill, The Citizens Equality Act of 2017, would encompass the comprehensive campaign reform that Lessig is designed to create equal freedom to vote, equal representation, and citizen funded elections. The equal freedom to vote piece of his legislation would ensure that voting was a protected and guaranteed right through the passage of the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015 and the Voter Empowerment Act of 2015. It would also eliminate barriers preventing people from exercising this right by turning election day into national holiday, and enacting automatic registration. Equal representation would be ensured through outlawing the practice of gerrymandering, a process in which congressional districts are manipulated to enhance a party’s popularity and favorability in a district, increasing their chance of winning that district during its election. A system of fairly and equally distributed congressional districts would replace the current practice and give an equal vote to everyone through the passage of the Ranked Choice Voting Act. The final piece of the legislation, citizen funded elections, would remove corporate money from politics and make “congressional campaign dependent on the citizens through small dollar vouchers or matching funds” through a hybrid of the Government by the People Act and the American Anti-Corruption Act. Lessig’s hope is that through this bill he can help return democracy to the people.

The reforms that Lessig is trying to enact are not new nor are they revolutionary, but a combination of existing proposals that outline reforms that have been proposed by representatives or theorized by other reformists. The main goal that Lessig is trying to accomplish with his Referendum Presidency is to put democracy ‘back in to the hands of the citizens’ and out of the hands of the very rich, realigning it with what he believes are the original views out the founders. James Madison was famously quoted as saying, “who are to be the electors of the federal representatives? Not the rich, more than the poor.” In Lessig’s view, democracy has been corrupted by “crony fund[ed] campaigns” and has been taken away from the people.

While the proposals that Lessig are promoting and advocating through his campaign are serious measures to equalize donor amounts, the practicality of their implementation in the manner that Lessig is seeking is highly unlikely. Lessig is polling at less than the one percent of the Democratic Primary vote, although he cites this may be partially because of his exclusion from major poll aggregates. He, at this moment, has not had a national platform to discuss or debate his reforms with other candidates vying for the Democratic Nomination. While Lessig’s unique candidacy decisions have differentiated him from others, he does not have the national notability necessary to gain the Nomination and remains relatively unknown. However, although it seems highly unlikely he will gain the presidency, his candidacy could catalyze the larger conversation over campaign finance reform during the coming debates.

Environmental Leadership Visits the Solar Decathlon

October 26, 2015

By: Erica Paul- Environmental Leadership Participant

When it was first announced that the Eisenhower Institute’s Environmental Leadership Program would be going to California, I immediately thought of Laguna Beach and The Real Housewives of Orange County. But EL was not in Irvine to indulge in pop culture fantasies; we were going to a research convention that is at the forefront of solar energy development.

The Solar Decathlon is a convention where groups of college students compete to construct the most energy-efficient, cost-effective, and aesthetically-pleasing solar-powered home that they can. As highlighted by the Solar Decathlon’s website, the goal is to blend “affordability, consumer appeal, and design excellence with optimal energy production and maximum efficiency.” When planning the Environmental Leadership trip to Irvine, the focal point was our attendance at the Solar Decathlon and the corresponding research that would be conducted. Hiking, whale watching, and other leisure activities, however splendid they may be, took the back burner in order to further our environmental education.

Our enthusiastic and engaged group of 12 decided to focus on the team management dynamic and how the structure and leadership of the Solar Decathlon teams shaped the construction of the house itself. One of the key reasons for this line of research was to highlight the gender imbalances in the demographics of the individual teams. By presenting this research to the Department of Energy, EL aims to help improve the structure of the Solar Decathlon, which is a remarkable educational program. As they aim to attract public awareness to renewable energy initiatives, then I do think it would be beneficial to include a diverse group of people in these efforts. As society is trying to become more accepting of people’s individualism and unique lifestyles, it is important for competitions to recognize that diversity has the potential to enhance progress. Before arriving at the Solar Decathlon, each member of Environmental Leadership chose a specific Solar Decathlon team to do preliminary research on. For most of the teams, there was a comprehensive website set up for their house, focusing on the team members, the layout of the house, the sponsors, and other applicable information to the public. The goal was to find out the demographic information of the team members and input the information into a group document. Unfortunately, my team did not have a website with this information, so this became a question point during our interview. During our last meeting before our trip to Irvine, we decided on questions to ask during interviews with each team. These questions focused on the leadership selection process, the departments of the students and their faculty advisor, as well as how the theme of the project came to be.

Saturday, October 10th was EL’s first full day in Irvine, and we spent the morning at the Solar Decathlon. We arrived at the Decathlon on electric bikes, courtesy of the Irvine-based company Pedegeo. After our arrival, we broke into small teams and began to tackle the interviews. At first, the task seemed daunting; the sheer number of people and the scope of their work was disorienting. Our fears evaporated quickly once the interview process began. I interviewed a dual team made up of students from Western New England University and the University of Panama (as well as a University in Honduras). A student from WNEU was the first interview subject. The WNEU team was very small, but had still managed to complete their entire house in just ten days.

In the vein of our study, the primary focus was on the makeup of the team. Despite the student body of WNEU being 40% female, there were only 2 girls out of 9 participants. In total, the team of 25 people, including WNEU, Panama, and Honduras, was only 28% female.

Across the study, it was found that most teams had a higher percentage of men than women. My project partner’s interviews went quite smoothly as well, however, most of our group agreed that our approach to our house’s team members was too timid to be very

successful. As a result, we did not initially receive all the necessary information for our research. During our session with Professor Ernst prior to our second day at the decathlon, we were provided with a list of questions for a 20 to 25 minute interview. The morning discussion was enough to kick me into high gear. When I went back for my second interview, I was more persistent and asked more in-depth questions. We received demographic information from our team, as well as a sheet with all the tasks for the house and who was assigned to do them. This became invaluable to my final research. Throughout our trip to Irvine, I not only learned about solar-powered homes, but also the necessity of acing an interview. It was essential to be persuasive – and at times, a little forceful – with my Decathlon team in order to receive the necessary information.

Executive Restraint: Why Coolidge Still Matters           

October 20, 2015

By: Christopher Condon, Inside Politics Participant

The year was 1923; wages had been rising and American wealth had escalated to unprecedented levels. All was quiet for Vice President Calvin Coolidge, the no-name mayor turned Governor of Massachusetts turned national figure. His post was a relatively ceremonial one, a nod to the faithfully Republican electorate of New England, no doubt.

Everything changed for the Vice President one midsummer’s night. While visiting family in Plymouth Notch, Vermont, the Coolidges were awoken by a firm knock at the front door of their modest stead. In the absence of any electricity or telephones, a messenger had arrived with shocking news: the President was dead.

Warren Gamaliel Harding died on a Tuesday evening after a slight and sudden bout with heart problems. The fight was over for Harding, but for Coolidge, the notoriously timid career politician, the battle was just beginning. In the campaign of 1920, Warren Harding had promised the American people “A Return to Normalcy,” and Coolidge intended to follow through on his predecessor’s oath; a return to peace and prosperity, a return to the characteristics that had brought America to the forefront of the world stage in such a short time.

This journey to former principles mostly revolved around healing the scars of the First World War; for the Coolidge administration, this included the centralization of power that had emerged under Wilsonian Democrats. But after a number of scandals during the Harding administration, many Americans lacked trust in the Republican Party. It seemed unlikely that any Republican candidate would win the 1924 election. However, the results of 1924 showed a shift; Coolidge secured double the amount of popular votes as the next highest candidate, Democrat John Davis of West Virginia.

How did the Coolidge administration overcome such grave doubt in Republican leadership? The answer can be significantly attributed to strong economic expansion and conservative tax policies under Coolidge. From 1924 to 1928, the marginal income tax rate for those making over $100,000 fell from 43% to 25%, and unemployment fell from 8.7% to 4.6% after the depression of 1920. Wages rose, prices fell, and inventions, such as the radio and washing machine, were made available to the general public. The decade of the automobile had begun, and Coolidge had failed to keep Harding’s promise. During his presidency, the 1920’s soon became anything but a “normal” decade; Silent Cal had helped spur the greatest period of economic growth in American history.

On Tuesday August 2, 1927, the President held a press conference: he did not reveal what the topic was. Once the press had arrived, Coolidge handed them each a small strip of paper.  Upon unraveling it, the members of the press were shocked to read, “I do not choose to run for president in 1928.” The public was just as surprised as the press; most regarded Coolidge as a shoo-in in 1928. Regardless of public expectation, the President stepped down quietly, passively endorsing his Secretary of Commerce, Herbert Hoover, for the Republican nomination.

Many compared Hoover to Coolidge with his quiet, reserved disposition and regimented management style. His rhetoric throughout his campaign and early presidency were also reminiscent of the Coolidge’s, promising the same style of executive restraint. However, following Black Tuesday and the dawn of the Great Depression, Hoover’s policies became more interventionist. Through programs like the Division of Public Construction, National Wool Marketing Corporation, and The Federal Home Loan Bank, the Hoover administration expanded fiscal expenditures and distanced itself philosophically from the Coolidge era.

Almost any conservative thinker would agree that Coolidge’s theory of limited executive power and limited governmental intervention in the economy was the cornerstone of the prosperity of the 1920’s. Many would, seeing the similarities between the centralization of power under the Wilson administration and the expansion of the use of executive orders seen today, contend that reviving such a system could bring about another “Coolidge Prosperity.” Regardless of one’s opinion on that point, it is worth it for every American to read a bit about Calvin Coolidge, an unrightfully forgotten President, who did much to shape the political philosophy of the Right in today’s political arena.

7 Reasons to Attend the EI Family Weekend Panel

October 19, 2015

By: Lynn Hatcher- EI Campus Communications Team Journalist

Leaning on the Glass Ceiling: A Look Ahead to 2016

  1. Learn about Women in 2016


The Eisenhower Institute will be hosting this fall’s Family Weekend Panel in Mara Auditorium from 1:30-3:00, focusing on the challenges and progress that women face today. Four expert perspectives—military, legal, businesses, and political—will guide this discussion, encouraging the audience to explore the status of women in these essential societal roles.

  1. Meet the (4) Experts

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1) Charles Stimson

Charles “Cully” Stimson is a Senior Legal Fellow and Manager of the National Security Law Program at The Heritage Foundation, a Washington D.C.-based think tank. A seasoned trial attorney and public policy expert, Cully has been local, state, federal and military prosecutor over the past 23 years, handling homicides, violent sex crimes to include rape, domestic violence, and other crimes. A Captain in the Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps (reserve component), Cully served three tours on active duty where he served with distinction as a criminal defense attorney and prosecutor. He served as the Deputy Chief Trial Judge for the Navy-Marine Corps Trial Judiciary, and handled over 55 criminal trials, most of which were sexual assaults. As a Heritage scholar, he is widely recognized national expert in crime control, appears regularly on cable news networks and radio shows across the country, and has been quoted and interviewed by the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and myriad other domestic and international publications. He is widely published, testifies regularly before the U.S. Congress and state legislatures, and his work has been cited in Supreme Court briefs. His landmark special report on sexual assault in the military was instrumental in shaping the debate in congress recently. During the George W. Bush administration, Cully served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Policy.


2) Honorable Kathleen Cox

Judge Kathleen Cox was appointed to the Circuit Court for Baltimore County in January 1999. Since September, 2013, she has served as the Circuit Administrative Judge for the Third Judicial Circuit, which is comprised of Baltimore and Harford Counties. Judge Cox previously served as the head of the Juvenile Court in Baltimore County from 2002 through 2013. Judge Cox currently serves as the Vice-Chair of the Conference of Circuit Judges, and she chairs the judiciary Domestic Law Committee. Judge Cox also presently serves on the Maryland Criminal Pattern Jury Instruction Committee, and she chaired the Bench Book Revision Oversight Committee, as well as the sub-committee that was instrumental in preparing the draft to the Family Law Benchbook. Judge Cox served as Vice Chair of the Maryland Problem Solving Court Committee from 2006 to 2010, and as Chair of the Drug Treatment Court Sub-Committee. Judge Cox chaired Baltimore County groups that implemented both a juvenile drug court program, and a family recovery court. She previously served as Vice-Chair of the ADR Committee, and is the Past Chair of the Maryland State Bar Committee on Gender Equality.

Judge Cox previously practiced law for 20 years with an active civil and criminal trial practice. She was a partner at Venable, Baetjer & Howard for 10 years and chaired that firm’s Towson Litigation practice. Prior to that, she was an associate at Cook, Howard, Downes & Tracy in Towson, and also served as an Assistant Federal Public Defender. Judge Cox is a 1976 graduate of the University of Notre Dame, and a 1979 graduate of that Law School, where she served as an editor of the law review. Judge Cox clerked for the Honorable James R. Miller, Jr. of the United States District Court for the District of Maryland.


3) Abigail Friedman

Abigail Friedman is Founder and CEO of The Wisteria Group, an international advisory firm dedicated to expanding the global presence and effectiveness of non-profit and business clients. A key element of The Wisteria Group is advancing women’s economic empowerment in Asia and the U.S. Abigail brings to her work over twenty-five years of experience as a U.S. diplomat with postings in Asia, Europe, and North America. She has served at the White House as National Security Council Director for Afghanistan, as Senior Advisor to The Asia Foundation, and as head of the U.S. consulate general in Quebec. Abigail received her B.A. with honors in history and science from Harvard University, and her J.D. from the Georgetown University Law Center.


4) Johanna Persing

A Pennsylvanian from birth, Johanna is currently the Communications Director for Congressman Ryan Costello (R-PA). Prior to joining the Congressman’s office in January, Johanna was the Communications Director for Barbara Comstock (R-VA) during her successful congressional campaign in Northern Virginia. Additionally, Johanna worked at the Republican National Committee (RNC) serving as the Deputy Director of Media Affairs and as the Press Assistant for the RNC during the 2012 presidential election cycle. A 2011 graduate of Gettysburg College, Johanna double majored in Political Science and Religious Studies. While at Gettysburg, she participated in EI’s Inside Politics program and served as captain of the Women’s Swim Team, helping the Bullets win three Centennial Conference Championships.

  1. Meet Moderator Jennifer Donahue, Chamberlin Fellow of Public Policy, Expert-in-Residence for EI’s “Women in Leadership” Program


Jennifer Donahue has reported and analyzed national and local politics for over twenty-five years. As a print, radio, and television news journalist, Donahue has established herself as a nationally recognized political commentator. Donahue provides regular commentary for MSNBC’s Hardball, CNN’s American Morning and Anderson Cooper 360 and is regularly quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Newsweek, USA Today, and The Boston Globe. In addition, Donahue is a featured contributor for The Huffington Post, and provides commentary for numerous radio networks, including National Public Radio. Currently, Donahue is the Public Information Officer for the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts.


(Above) EI’s Expert-in-Residence Jennifer Donahue with her friend Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC’s “Hardball with Chris Matthews.”

  1. Be Recruited for the Spring 2016 “Women in Leadership” Team


Highlighting women, this EI panel will serve as a recruitment event for Gettysburg College students eager to study the intersection of gender issues and leadership along with the evolution of women in all sectors of society. “Women In Leadership” provides an opportunity for undergraduate men and women to work interactively with an experienced practitioner of politics and gain insight into the way Washington, D.C. works. Led by Jennifer Donahue, students meet for discussions focusing on a topic related to Women in Politics, attend sessions in Washington, D.C., and attend dinners and working lunches where they engage in political discussion on topical political news. Please see the tentative spring 2105 schedule.

  1. Gather with “Women in Leadership” Program Alumni


As a “Women in Leadership” alumni event, the crowd will be filled with leaders who have already been inspired by Jennifer Donahue’s expert program. Gather with them to learn more about what is means to be a WIL team member. Leaning on the Glass Ceiling: A Look Ahead to 2016 is a perfect opportunity to join together with fellow men and women who are affected by the status of women and the changing roles of women in our present society. Women, let’s “lean” on the glass ceiling!

  1. Food, Drinks, and Fun EI Open House


After the lecture, journey across campus to the Eisenhower Institute (previous home of Ike and Mamie) for food, drinks, and mingling. This is an opportunity to enjoy the company of all of EI’s incredible students, faculty, and administrators. For those already a participant of EI programs and staff, show your parents your second “family” at the Eisenhower Institute, and join us in this Family Weekend Tradition!

  1. Treat Your Parents and Siblings to an Excellent Family Weekend Event


“We Still Like IKE!”

Environmental Leadership Leans On Electric Bikes

October 19, 2015

By: Dave Engel- Environmental Leadership

An electric bicycle is very similar to a normal bicycle: it has pedals, a chain and gears you can shift between.  What is different is the electric motor that is attached to the bike which helps propel the rider in several ways. When Environmental Leadership arrived in Irvine, California, each participant was equipped with an electric bike from Pedego, a company founded in 2009. Don DiCostanzo, who co-founded the company with lifelong friend Terry Sherry, had always been passionate about electric bicycles. He founded the company out of displeasure with the quality of product available. Pedego is now a top of the line brand for electric bikes.

Pedego bikes feature the options of a throttle, a pedal assistance, or both. Located on the handle bar, the throttle works similarly to other automatic personal motorized vehicles such as a moped, propelling the bike forward when twisted.  The other feature, pedal assist, senses when the rider is pedaling, and, just as it sounds, assists the rider.  Pedal assist helps keep a constant speed on flat surfaces, and helps the rider make it up hills without the rider have to exert too much effort.  There are five different modes modes, each one giving the rider a different level of propulsion. Mode 1 gives the rider the least assistance, so it is necessary to constantly pedal to keep a constant speed.  Mode 5 only requires the rider to pedal about twice every ten seconds to maintain a constant speed.  A rider might consider using mode 5 when battling a large hill or when in a rush.

Each electric bike is powered using a lithium battery.  Pedego does not give a standard answer in regards to how long the battery lasts, as there are many factors that determine this. Among these are how much the rider pedals, the terrain or to what level the rider utilizes the throttle or pedal assist and the weight of the rider.  However, in our experience over the three days we spent in Irvine, we found that the battery was more than sufficient to carry us wherever we needed.  On one occasion, I traveled approximately 25 miles and only used one fifth of the battery.  After use, the battery can be disconnected from the bike and plugged into a wall charger.  The battery takes from two to six hours to charge.  The charger is considered a smart charger meaning that it will turn off as soon as the battery is fully charged.

As a group, we rode our bikes around 100 miles over the course of three days.  It was the primary mode of transportation for the whole trip, perfectly combining efficiency and environmental consciousness.  Irvine is a city that is biker friendly and almost every road had a bike lane making it easy to use the bikes everywhere we went.  There were also several miles of off road bike trails.  On Monday morning of the trip, several other participants and I woke up at 5:00 am to bike 12 miles from our hotel to Laguna Beach.  When we arrived at the beach it was still dark.  It was spectacular to see the sun rise over the beautiful houses that are built into the mountains overlooking the ocean.  We were slightly concerned about getting back to the hotel in time; especially knowing we would have to go up hill.  We soon realized it would be a non-issue because of our electric bikes. Having these bikes altered the way that we approached transportation for the better.

The electric bike made for a truly great experience for the EL participants. It allowed us to get from destination to destination efficiently, without sacrificing stewardship for the planet. A vehicle like this is an unbelievable investment for the most environmentally conscious to the least. Electric bicycles are bound to grow more popular in bike-friendly cities across the country.

The Debate Over Immigration

October 16, 2015

By: Christina Noto, Expert Access Participant

America is known as the great melting pot of the world; people from all areas of life and of different origins merge together to create the United States. Immigration is a critical part of most American’s pasts, whether it be the pride they take in their relatives travelling to pave the way for their family, or the fact that they themselves are a mixture of many different cultures. Although immigration has a huge impact on our country, it has also been the object of many controversies.

Controversy over immigration is not new to this era. Tensions between immigration and nativism occurred as early as the colonial era. Although the Federalists passed anti-immigration legislation in the 1790s, the Know Nothing Party was the first anti-immigrant party in the country. During the 1840s and 1850s, the Know Nothings were not only anti-foreigner but also anti-Catholic. Many people of the Protestant working class viewed immigrants from Germany and Ireland as an economic threat; they saw their Catholicism as un-American and as a danger to American culture. The Know Nothings wanted to reform immigration policy, increasing residency requirements for citizenship and imposing restrictions on voting and office holding rights. Despite winning political victories in a number of states, many rejected their nativism as being un-American. Abraham Lincoln once said,

“I am not a Know-Nothing. That is certain. How could I be? How can any one who abhors the oppression of negroes (sic), be in favor of degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we begin by declaring that “all men are created equal.” We now practically read it “all men are created equal, except negroes.” When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read “all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics (sic).” When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense (sis) of loving liberty-to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy (sic).”

Although this nativist wave died, it resurfaced later in the century in an even stronger reaction to the “new immigration,” beginning in the 1880s and continuing until the1920s. The Immigration Act of 1924 established a quota system, limiting the number of people legally allowed to enter this country. Each country was given visas for 2% of its population in the United States at the time of the 1890 census. This act essentially excluded immigration from Asia, Africa and the Middle East, severely limited immigration from Eastern and Southern Europe, and favored northwestern Europe. During the 1920s nativists feared Bolshevism – also known as the Red Scare. The KKK also reemerged as a result of the increased immigration from southern and eastern Europe. Civil liberties were often violated and many immigrants were deported based only on suspicions, due to this nativist fear. Similar to the Know Nothing views of Irish and Germans in the 1840s and 50s, the nativists of the 1920s felt that “new immigrants” were incapable of assimilation and a threat to both American democracy and culture.

Today Democrats and Republicans continue to debate how to handle immigration issues. Indeed, immigration reform has been one of the most heavily debated issues in the current campaign. According to Republican Donald Trump’s campaign website, “a nation without borders is not a nation, a nation without laws is not a nation” and “a nation that does not serve its own citizens is not a nation.” He feels that the United States should build a wall between itself and Mexico, and Mexico should pay for it. Trump also believes that the US should return criminals who are illegal immigrants to their native country and hold illegal immigrants instead of releasing them. Not only does he want to reform the system, he also wants to completely change some policies, such as bringing an end to birthright citizenship. Republican Jeb Bush’s main focus is increased border security. He wants the current illegal immigrants pass a background check, learn English, and pay fines and taxes. He plans to crack down on expired visas, and send those who have them back to their country. Other Republican candidates have similar complaints, like earlier generations of nativists, and are calling for increased border control and deportations.

On the other hand, Democrat Hillary Clinton advocates for an ‘ethical’ immigration system and reform. She plans to back President Obama’s executive actions as well as enforce the laws in a ‘humane’ way. Clinton does not want to break up families and she wants to provide a clear path to citizen ship. Unlike Trump she wants to phase out detention centers. Bernie Sanders has similar views to Hillary’s; he wants to keep and expand the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, as well as immigration reform that will help migrant workers. He opposes building a fence at the border of the United States and Mexico and has said,

“We are a nation of immigrants. I am the son of an immigrant myself. Their story, my story, our story is a story of America: hard-working families coming to the United States to create a brighter future for their children. The story of immigrants is the story of America, a story rooted in family and fueled by hope. It continues today in families all across the United States.”

Individuals born in foreign counties have founded over twenty five percent of the fastest growing companies in America from 1990 until 2005. The transformation of Silicon Valley can be credited to the Asian Americans that make up over fifty percent of the workforce. There are many examples of hard working immigrants helping the economy. The contributions immigrants make to our culture, economy and society only add to the melting pot that many call the United States. While nativism is central to many campaigns, perhaps politicians need to take a closer look at the positive aspects of immigration.

The Flat Tax: Possibility or Fantasy?

October 14, 2015

By: Liam Kerr ’19, Inside Politics Participant

If there is one thing to be said of a flat tax proposal, an idea which has gained traction since Steve Forbes’ Presidential campaign 20 years ago, it is that there is definitely an audience out there for it. Many voters in the country agree with this proposal, albeit primarily conservative voters. The flat tax has been used as a platform to try to reach the most conservative wings of the Republican party. “The flat tax enables a candidate to appeal to the party’s most conservative constituents, including libertarians, deficit hawks, and tea party members” during the primaries. However, since the audience for a flat tax proposal is not yet large enough to make it through a general election, it remains a Republican primary ploy.

To illustrate this point, the current presidential contest can be analyzed to see which candidates would be in favor of a flat tax proposal. Rand Paul, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham, and Rick Santorum are the only presidential candidates who support some kind of flat tax. Senator Paul of Kentucky has by far the most detailed flat tax policy, with a proposed flat tax of 14.5% on all ordinary income above 50k/year, as well as a 14.5% corporate tax. A total of zero Democratic candidates have publicly endorsed any kind of flat tax policy, with Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont even saying “he could back a 90 percent top marginal tax rate”.

The attractiveness of the flat tax proposal most certainly stems from “deep-seated hostility towards Washington and the Internal Revenue Service”. In addition to this, however, is the complexity of the tax code in its current form (over 70,000 pages in length). This is incomprehensible to the average voter, and, likely, to most politicians in Washington. Senator Paul gains much of his support from libertarian-minded voters who love the idea of a flat tax, which they deem to be fair, as it puts the same burden on voters of all economic classes. Paul recently made the news by burning, shredding, and chain-sawing the 70,000 page tax code as a demonstration in support of his flat tax proposal.

While it seems as if there is a lot of support in favor of a flat tax policy, it is important to remember that this has been a recurring theme in conservative platforms for the last several election cycles. With no progress being made, conservatives find themselves wondering if this platform has any likelihood of taking root or if it is being used simply for candidates to gain support.

When evaluating the chances of the United States ever implementing a flat tax policy, politicians most certainly look at the example of countries throughout the world who have already adopted a flat tax. There is no better example of flat tax implementation than eastern European countries such as Macedonia, Slovakia, and Slovenia. These countries have experienced economic growth in recent years, but there is no evidence that this growth would have been greater or lesser if a progressive tax was implemented instead. “Advocates of the flat-rate tax credit it with playing a key role in generating economic growth and foreign investment flows into east-central Europe” but others argue that there is not enough evidence to support this correlation.

The National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA), a conservative think tank, conducted an analysis of the effects of a 17% flat tax proposal on several sectors of the economy. Three conclusions were drawn from this analysis. The first conclusion was that “Every income group would gain, with the greatest gain in percentage terms (7.6 percent) going to the lowest-income Americans.” Second, the NCPA found “In percentage terms, the gains of the highest income group would be third highest among the six income groups.” Lastly, “the increased economic activity that would result . . . would be so great that government revenues would increase by 1.8 percentage points.”

The findings of the NCPA report will most likely not be tested for many years to come, or never. The chances of a flat-tax implementation in the near future are slim to none. A majority of voters are satisfied with the progressive tax we have now, but most disagreement lies with the percentages of each tax bracket. The advocates of flat-rate tax policy should not be disheartened, as many presidential and congressional candidates have endorsed the idea. Even some democrats across the country support the idea, particularly in state governments which “need a tax base that doesn’t count on a large slice of revenue from taxes on a relatively small number of wealthy residents who can flee the state or who are themselves vulnerable to losing a substantial portion of income in a recession.” This is a fight, however, which will likely continue for many years to come if the frustration with the current tax system carries on.