…because I’m an economist and a mom–that’s why!

Time to Rally for Sane Tax Policy!

September 29th, 2011 . by economistmom
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I wish I had even a fraction of the talent that Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert–the “sanity ralliers”–have in explaining tax and budget policy in engaging ways. The Jon Stewart segment above is my latest favorite, but here’s a great one by Colbert on the “Buffett Rule.” In my Tax Notes column this week on “Evolved Tax Policy,” I argue that as our economy grows and changes shape over time, so should our tax policy. Why should we use our experience in the past to guide our policymaking more than our hopes and expectations for the future? How do I wish tax policy would better “evolve?” Here are a few ways I listed in my column (see the full column–if you are a Tax Notes subscriber–for more details):

Here are some forms of tax policy evolution we could use right now:

    1. recognizing that expanding the economy via tax policy isn’t as simple as cutting taxes and that tax cuts involve costs as well as benefits;

    2. allowing smart tax policymaking to at least occasionally trump clever tax policy politics;

    3. acknowledging that Wagner’s Law — which holds that the public sector is a luxury good — may apply, suggesting that the optimal size of government and hence the optimal level of revenue/GDP grow over time with the economy; and

    4. realizing or recognizing that because part of that growing role of the public sector may be the redistributive role, especially if wealth income inequality increase with aggregate income growth, the progressivity of the tax system may need to increase over time to partially compensate.

What is an example of how we’re NOT “evolving” on tax policy?  The fact that proposals for “flat taxes” seem to be back in vogue.  Take Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain’s “999 Plan.” A reporter called me about it, which was the only reason I went to the Cain website to check it out for a few seconds, which was all it took to “get” what his proposal is basically about:  (i) switching to a consumption-based tax system that exempts income from capital–which on its own is “regressive”; (ii) switching to a single (”flat”) marginal tax rate schedule–which on its own is (also) “regressive”; and then (iii) switching to a not-just-double-but-triple tax of consumed income (instead of saved income) through the 9 percent business tax (exempting capital income) and the 9 percent sales tax (which naturally exempts savings) that are layered on top of the 9 percent income tax (which exempts capital income as well)–which means all that regressivity I already listed is tripled!  Where did the 9 percent rates come from, I was asked by the reporter–and would it be revenue neutral?  My response:  “probably because 9 is one digit long” and theoretically, yes, it’s possible that a triple tax on consumed income with no or few exemptions which has an effective rate of 9+9+9 or 27 percent could indeed be revenue neutral.  (From Cain’s description of the 999 base, it’s not clear what is exempt other than charitable deductions–oh, and all of capital income, of course.)

I don’t know if I’ll feel compelled to say anymore about the Cain tax plan unless the candidate actually seems to have a decent chance of getting the Republican nomination, but on the way to seeing if that happens I hope people recognize how insane his tax plan is (without needing any detailed analysis).  This is one plan where my biggest reaction to the plan is not that it doesn’t raise enough revenue.  Like I said, theoretically it could, but why would we ever want to do it that way?

It’s sort of an example of what I called “Neanderthal tax policy” in my Tax Notes column.  So please don’t take it seriously.  Yeah, I know–it’s hard to believe I can say you should take the guys from Comedy Central–Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert–more seriously than some of these presidential candidates when it comes to their wisdom on tax policy.  But you should.

28 Responses to “Time to Rally for Sane Tax Policy!”

  1. comment number 1 by: Luke

    27%!?! Are you serious?!? How can you add the income, corporate, and sales taxes together to say everyone will pay 27%? That makes no sense at all. For starters, the corporate tax isn’t paid by individuals. So, using your math, albeit wrong, would make an 18% effective rate. But also, the 9% sales tax isn’t being put on all of your income, but only what you spend. This will induce a sense of savings in people and you will see more money placed into savings and the stock market. Also, the more money a family makes the more money they will pay in taxes due to families adapting to their income and living off of what they make. The rich naturally spend more money so they will be paying more. But, everyone will be paying the same percentage so it is fair. And about your progressive tax idea, if you make $20,000 a year more than your neighbor is it fair that you should have to give up more of it? I think not.

  2. comment number 2 by: Brooks

    I haven’t looked much at the 999, but I just glanced at it on Cain’s site and something caught my eye:

    The 9% “Business Flat Tax” is calculated as:
    Gross income less all investments, all purchases from other businesses and all dividends paid to shareholders.

    So if a business distributes $1 of earnings as dividends, the shareholder gets the full $1 without either the business or the shareholder being taxed on it at all. But if that business retains $1 of earnings to reinvest in the business, the shareholder loses 9 cents of it, and only 91 cents is left after tax to reinvest on behalf of that shareholder.

    Am I reading that correctly? Missing something?

    Unless I’m wrong or missing something, doesn’t that artificially strongly favor distribution of that $1 rather than reinvesting it? And isn’t that a potentially very harmful distortion, causing artificially low level of investment and/or higher cost of capital?

  3. comment number 3 by: Brooks

    Also, since the taxable income is net of “purchases from other businesses” but (apparently) not of labor expense, doesn’t that create a very strong artificial incentive to outsource labor (perhaps even if only via converting employees to contractors, but certainly not limited to that in any case)?

  4. comment number 4 by: Brooks

    I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a Wagner’s curve, with desired spending/GDP (assuming roughly corresponding revenue/GDP) having a positive but decreasing slope that eventually turns negative at some level of GDP.

    There are some basic needs that can generally more effectively, efficiently, and/or fairly met via forced, collective funding across the population (or segments thereof most capable of providing funds) — i.e., taxation — such as funding a military to provide security, and providing police & judiciary.

    And some degree of safety net can arguably apply, despite the possibility of private charity, since (1) with private charity, there is the fairness problem of “free riders” (which can also result in underfunding vs. what most people would consider ideal), and (2) funding via taxation is generally (I assume) more reliable than private fundraising, thus providing more secure financing (a safety net for the safety net).

    And generally, as people get wealthier, my guess (at least for most people) is that they are willing to be more charitable as a percentage of their income, and insofar as larger government is generally progressively redistributive, there is a plausible argument that this dynamic is a factor in “Wagner’s Law”, but (1) insofar as people also see government as less efficient than the private sector (dollar for dollar) in such redistribution and/or at odds with each person’s philanthropic/societal priorities, and (2) insofar as people see a wealthier society as providing more opportunity and less need — or less excuse — for some to receiving property confiscated from others (taxes), I can see a counter-force to the Wagner dynamic at some GDP point.

  5. comment number 5 by: Ben

    Progressive taxation is largely cancelled out or negated by loopholes and exploitation of exemptions. How can you claim so much regressivity when you don’t account for the “pre-bate” for the lower incomes? …and why the concern over “not enough revenue” versus responsible handling of a fair revenue stream?

    you state:
    “I went to the Cain website to check it out for a few seconds” and “I don’t know if I’ll feel compelled to say anymore about the Cain tax plan unless the candidate actually seems to have a decent chance of getting the Republican nomination”, So please report back when you have more detail and considered all variables to this plan that include re-investment, job creation, and other variables unaccounted for.

  6. comment number 6 by: Scott for Cain

    One would have to wonder if the author of this blog has read the current tax code, and why she considers it a better model than the one proposed by Mr. Cain.

  7. comment number 7 by: Vivian Darkbloom

    This is on of EM’s most disappointing columns. In it, she pulls out a rhetorical device that is all too often used by “progressives” to combat ideas and candidates they don’t like: Simply call your ideological opponents or their ideas stupid (here “Neanderthal”) and claim victory. End of story. Failing to engage honestly merely points out the weakness of one’s own position. (And, while I’m certain EM had no such intent, I’m equally certain that if someone were to spend just a few seconds looking at our sitting president’s ideas and then label them as “Neanderthal” someone would be quick to charge he or she was racist.)

    The first question to ask about Cain’s plan is whether, in fact, it is a “plan”. This is a criticism, not a defense. But, it strikes me that the “plan” has no realistic chance of being adopted in toto. Successful presidential candidates simply don’t have the ability to get everything they want, or even nearly everything they want. There is that pesky Congress to deal with. And governing means, or should mean, that legislation is enacted for the entire populace and not merely one’s spectrum of that populace. Alas, this is not the world we live in. “Plans” are most often put out there not as “plans” but as negotiating positions. Here, Mr. Cain does seem to have a lot in common with Mr. Obama. At most, Mr. Cain and the electorate can expect his “plan” will pull the system somewhat in the direction he’s pointing and, in many respects, EM should be happy with that. I wish this were not the case, but the world is populated by more Limbaughs and Krugmans than it is by Brooks. This is another way of saying that if you combine red and blue you get purple.

    I wish Cain had provided more details about his “plan”. He’s given us about a 2 page summary. Compare that with the size of the current Tax Code (CCH Standard Tax Edition) which is more than 72,000 pages (not included regulations). It’s about as fair to call this a “plan” as it is to describe President Obama’s Buffett Rule a plan. Again, that’s not a defense; it is a criticism of them both. But, let’s try to be a bit even-handed here.

    But, when you get right down to it, EM’s complaint here is that the Cain “plan” does not meet her own ideological test. That ideological test is that the purpose of the tax code should not be merely to raise revenue but to redistribute income. This equates tax policy with social policy. So, our “non-partisan” measure of the tax proposal is not based on whether it makes the tax system more simple, more efficient or that it reduces our budget deficits, but whether it redistributes income or results in a particular size of government that meets our ideological criteria. I’m sure to some extent that’s unavoidable and I’m not going to call it stupid, but it is shortsighted. Aside from the obvious purely ideological preference, It ignores the fact that one cannot merely look to the tax code and the means of raising revenue to determine whether a policy is “regressive” or “progressive”. In order to make that judgement one also needs to look at how that revenue is spent. Mr. Cain might very well believe that we should lower not only taxes but also spending on the “wealthy”. For example, if Social Security and Medicare spending would be cut for those who don’t need to rely on those programs for financial security, then his overall policy becomes much more “progressive” as far as its re-distributional effects than merely looking at the revenue side of the ledger. Of course, that raises the other hot ideological rail—the appropriate size of government.

    And, if we look at Cain’s actual “plan”, there should be much for EM to like. It meets several of the criteria that she and other progressives put forward in their own “plans”. To wit, the national consumption tax. The main proponents of this are progressives, but I would hardly call them Neanderthal. In this respect, and in several others the “plan” actually resembles the “Purple Tax” proposed by Lawrence Kotlikoff and other prominent economists. Are these people “Neanderthals”? I don’t think so. If you oppose the regressive nature of that consumption tax, then propose to offset it, as does the Purple Tax, by a rebate according to income and family size (I’m not sure that the Cain “plan” would not include this—it would go on the spending side of the ledger). Or, sensibly suggest that it exempt or lower rates on food and health care and books, as many European VAT systems do. Also, as noted by Kotlikoff, this consumption tax feature would not only encourage savings rather than consumption, it would retroactively tax those with accumulated wealth once that wealth is expended. That is not totally “regressive”.

    In many respects, the Cain “plan” is downright European. The European model is not so much re-distributional as it is paternalistic. The much higher taxes that the lower income quintiles in Europe pay can most accurately be viewed as forced savings. Other than the existing payroll taxes, these lower quintiles in the US are not being forced by government to “save”.

    Cain also calls for eliminating most deductions, exemptions and credits (so-called tax expenditures). What’s not to like about that? EM has argued for that herself. I would, go further and exclude charitable deductions from any such “plan” as well as tax exempt status for so-called “non-profits”.

    Cain also calls for eliminating payroll taxes. Would eliminating this “regressive” tax but “regressive”? That depends on what he proposes to do with the programs currently funded by those programs. If funded by general revenues, that could very well be more progressive than what we now have. I would like to see more details on this and also a study of the “distributional effects” of this plan before I jump to the conclusion that it is inherently unfair.

    There is much I don’t like about the Cain plan, either. But, I think the “plan” deserves more than a few seconds of study and thought before one comes out and labels it, or its proponent, “Neanderthal”.

  8. comment number 8 by: SteveinCH

    It’s all the rage from our “progressive” friends today. It used to be that “progressive” in the context of taxes meant higher rates as income increased and “regressive” meant lower rates as income increased. The new rhetorical device is to call a tax that is constant as income increases “regressive.”

    The new definition appear to be, any tax that takes a higher portion of discretionary income from one group than another is regressive. I rather suspect that by this definition, the current Federal tax code (although maybe not the income tax code) is regressive.

    EM, this really is a weak sally. I read it and almost thought that someone had highjacked your account. Maybe it’s your frustration coming through but, while Cain’s plan has many holes (the largest being it’s nowhere close to revenue neutral off a non recessionary base), your argument (It’s regressive and bad and only a Neanderthal could think of something so odious) is about as poor an argument as I’ve ever seen you make here. I typically disagree with you but respect your point of view. Not so much this time.

  9. comment number 9 by: Vivian Darkbloom

    “Unless I’m wrong or missing something, doesn’t that artificially strongly favor distribution of that $1 rather than reinvesting it? And isn’t that a potentially very harmful distortion, causing artificially low level of investment and/or higher cost of capital?”

    Brooks, this is a legitimate question, but again, I think one can’t draw too many negative implications from such a short description. What Cain seems to be advocating is that we adopt an “integrated” corporate/individual tax system so that there are not two layers of tax. That, in itself, is a very reasonable objective qnd you are correct that the system should be tax netural as regards distribution to shareholders or retention in the corporate solution. That results in the most efficient allocation of capital.

    There are different ways to achieve that objective. One way is to exempt distributions from shareholder level tax. If it were as simple as that, you would have a point. But, many advanced countries that try to have some degree of integration use an “imputation” system. That is, dividends paid by a corporation to shareholders are not per se exempt, but those dividends carry with them a tax credit that represents the underlying corporate tax paid on those earnings. Naturally, these details are important. Germany, the UK and France have varying forms of this imputation system and this might well be one of the details that are missing from Cain’s short description. If he does not have this in mind, then he perhaps should.

  10. comment number 10 by: Patrick R. Sullivan

    ‘Why should we use our experience in the past to guide our policymaking more than our hopes and expectations for the future?’

    Okay, then why are you criticizing Herman Cain for doing just that?

  11. comment number 11 by: Jim Glass

    acknowledging that Wagner’s Law — which holds that the public sector is a luxury good — may apply, suggesting that the optimal size of government and hence the optimal level of revenue/GDP grow over time with the economy

    Yet never shrink with a shrinking economy?

    When indvidual income goes down, spending on “luxury goods” is the first thing cut.

    But when national income goes down — unemployment hits 9%, 10% — then spending on this luxury good must go up, up, up, to save us all.

    Spending on it goes up with rising income, spending on it goes up even more with stagnating income.

    That’s a unique kind of luxury good.

  12. comment number 12 by: Brooks


    I think you are overlooking the matter of timing. The argument for spending going up amid a shrinking economy is, as you know, Keynesian stimulus (as well as absorbing some shock via more safety net spending, but again, intended as temporary in nature).

    I suppose some would argue that a society with less wealth will tend to want bigger government (i.e., the opposite of “Wagner’s Law”) but that’s different from advocacy of higher spending during a recession.

  13. comment number 13 by: Jim Glass

    “Jim I think you are overlooking the matter of timing….”

    Brooks, I’m not overlooking it. I’m pointing out that this is entirely different from how demand for “luxury goods” functions.

    If I were cynical I’d go further and say that once a crisis increases the size of government, it never drops back to its former size after the crisis passes.

    Look at before and after WWI and WWII. But the “crisis” doesn’t have to be that big.

    Look how state taxes have perpetually ratcheted up in states like NY and CA as during recession years when revenue dropped they pushed up taxes to close deficits — then when recovery came the higher taxes and higher revenue they produced become the new baselines funding, repeat, repeat, repeat.

    The federal telephone tax on your phone bill was created as an emergency temporary excise tax to help fund the Spanish American War, imposed on a “luxury good” of the day owned by only a few of the rich. Well, the need to fund the Spanish American War quickly passed, but the tax didn’t.

    New York State has an Overcoat Development Corporation, created in the 1980s to recruit overcoat manufacturing company to relocate to NYS. The manufacturer never came and went out of business years ago, but the ODC still exists.

    I mean, the NYS ODC is a triviality, but multiply it by a zillion other examples small to large to huge, and it is not so trivial.

    Once a govt spending program is created, or a revenue stream is created to fund spending, all the parties who benefit from it organize politically to make sure it never ends. Certainly not simply because the justification for it — the Spanish American War, the demise of the overcoat company, or whatever — ends.

    “No government program ever dies”, said Friedman. And among the few that actually do, we get reincarnation!

    You may remember the notorious Mohair subsidies created in the 1950s to subsidize farm production of mohair as a “strategic good”, since it was used in army uniforms. In the 1990s they got a huge amount of bad publicity when enemies of such things made them the poster-boy example of govt handout waste. A shamed and embarrassed Congress repealed them. Then, a few years later, when all the furor had passed, it quietly re-enacted them! Yes, they came up from the grave and live on today!

    Even dead govenment programs don’t die!

    Is all this really the dynamic of the size of government growing rationally as a “luxury good”?

    Or is it the dynamic of Bastiat’s: “Government is the great fiction through which everybody tries to live at everybody else’s expense.”

    That’s what I’d say if I were cynical. But happily there’s not a cynical bone in my body. :-)

  14. comment number 14 by: Brooks


    I was just addressing your remark:

    But when national income goes down — unemployment hits 9%, 10% — then spending on this luxury good must go up, up, up, to save us all.

    That strikes me as a reference to advocacy of higher spending amid recession (either as automatic stabilizers built into law or as active “stimulus”), which is at least ostensibly (and I think sincerely in the case of many) intended as a temporary measure, not a reflection of a preference for higher spending at lower income levels (which would be the opposite of “Wagner’s Law”).

    Your point that measures taken ostensibly (or even perhaps sincerely) as temporary measures tend to remain beyond the temporary justification may have some/much validity, but I was just addressing the arguments, which I consider sincere in many cases (although I’m sure some use recession as an excuse for spending they favor anyway), by those advocating higher spending amid recession.

    It’s not clear to me if you are saying that these advocates are insincere (about the temporary nature they attach to the higher spending they seek amid recession) or just ignorant and unrealistic.

    The degree of validity of your point is a question I’m ill-equipped to answer. And anecdotal evidence, even if so striking that they perhaps indicate an institutional “mindset”, doesn’t help much in establishing that degree in terms of portions of such incremental spending that last beyond the temporary justification. And spending as a % of GDP has had its ups and downs since WWII (although without factoring in tax expenditure subsidies somehow I consider that metric quite flawed), so it seems the “ups” as a result of or responding to recession, war, whatever, do sometimes come down (obviously not necessarily due to spending constraint, since growth rate is the denominator).

    Anyway, I’ve offered only a limited point: I’m inclined to think that most people advocating higher spending amid recession sincerely view it as a temporary measure and support it on that basis, as opposed to what I think you were characterizing: The same group of people seeing any economic outlook over any time period, whether GDP is projected to rise or fall, as a justification for permanently higher spending as % of GDP.

  15. comment number 15 by: SteveinCH


    I don’t know what people advocating things believe but what I do know is that the driver of the ups and downs has historically been changes in discretionary spending. As discretionary spending (security and non) continues to become a smaller and smaller portion of our budget, the ability to create ups and downs declines dramatically.

    Indeed if you look at the three large downs in the post-war period, they coincide precisely with drawdowns in military spending post WWII, Korea, and the cold war. Looking forward, there simply isn’t enough money in those accounts to produce more downs and the ups are increasingly built into the base.

  16. comment number 16 by: Vivian Darkbloom

    “I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a Wagner’s *curve*, with desired spending/GDP (assuming roughly corresponding revenue/GDP) having a positive but decreasing slope that eventually turns negative at some level of GDP.”

    This appears to be correct per recent historical experience. If you go to the OECD website and download the graph comparison of general government expenditures per GDP, you will find that with very few exceptions (the US being one) the average percentage of government expenditures for the period 2006-2008 declined when compared with the average for the period 1995-1997 even though real and nominal incomes rose between those two periods. The most dramatic decreases came with respect to those European countries such as Sweden, which built up large public sectors only to find that the size of that public sector had grown to a point that it became inefficient and unaffordable and counter-productive. (click on right hand column “Comparison with other OECD Countries” in General Government Expenditures for graph).

    It is somewhat amusing how freely economists tend to use the term “law” when speaking of largely un-testable and un-provable hypotheses. “Wagner’s Law” is a very good case in point. Wagner predicted that the size of government would grow as personal incomes rise, but largely for reasons that had nothing to do with “luxury goods”. Writing in the age of industrialization, he predicted that a more complex economy would require a larger government regulatory role and that increased urbanization would require larger expenditures for maintaining public order, sanitation, etc. Larger expenditures for “cultural goods” such as education and welfare were part of the equation, but only a part, which Wagner never attempted to quantify. And, Wagner did not make his prediction as a matter of *political justification* (as does EM) but merely as a *prediction* of likely human behavior.

    Here’s EM’s formulation of the “law”:

    “acknowledging that Wagner’s Law — which holds that the public sector is a luxury good — may apply, suggesting that the optimal size of government and hence the optimal level of revenue/GDP grow over time with the economy;”

    Here, EM has inaccurately turns “Wagner’s Law” from a value-neutral prediction to one that is supposed to represent *optimal* spending. Wagner said nothing of the sort. *Optimal* did not enter into the equation.

    Wagner also did not predict or account for the fact that his theorem did not apply comparatively. In other words, countries at the extreme upper end of public sectors have tended to be relatively poor (Soviet Union, China, Greece) and those with relatively smaller ratios (US) nevertheless outperformed them. So, large public sectors are not a per se “luxury”. Economists have later found that Wagner’s Law, while appropriate for developing economies (see OECD Chart for Brazil) but not so for developed economies (see above for Sweden, et al). Is the US not a “developed” economy?

    Wagner’s Law as amended by the Brooks Curve makes perfect sense. The wealthier a person (or a populace) become, the generally less concerned about inefficiency and waste they tend to be. In this respect, inefficiency and waste may themselves be viewed as “luxury goods”, but only to a point. A rich person might be less likely to pick up a dime or a quarter or a dollar from the sidewalk than would a poor person. So, up to a point, inefficient government “luxury goods” such as extracting Medicare taxes for the wealthy only to turn around redistribute those taxes in the form of benefits to that same wealthy group are tolerated even though it is inefficient, but (hopefully) only to a point.

    This Brooks Curve also reminds me of the recent study done by Reinhart and Rogoff that predicts a diminishing and even negative return on public sector borrowing when gross public debt to GDP exceeds 90 percent. The Law of Diminishing Returns has broad applications.

    It amazes me that with such clear historical examples with respect to the European social democracies, whose public sectors grew up that Wagner slope only to have found they went too far, progressive US economists erroneously cite the Wagner Law as a *justification* for larger government, as if going up that slope is both inevitable and uncontrovertibly desirable. Bravely go where others have gone before. Perhaps this is the Law of the Lemmings.

  17. comment number 17 by: jb1419

    Clueless. All this self-flagellation around tax and social policy on this website is mindnumbing. if you are interested in how the world actuallly works and why we are in this mess avoid PHDs and the political class and start reading this.

  18. comment number 18 by: Brooks

    Thanks Vivian. How flattering to have a curve named after me* ;-)

    * Well, sort of. “Brooks” isn’t really my name; it’s the first name of my childhood baseball hero, Brooks Robinson.

  19. comment number 19 by: AMTbuff

    Your name is Honus?

  20. comment number 20 by: Brooks

    lol AMT.

  21. comment number 21 by: Vivian Darkbloom

    Well, it’s good you chose “Brooks”. “The Human Vacuum Cleaner” would have really sucked as a nom de plume.

  22. comment number 22 by: Brooks

    Agreed Vivian. By the way, was that pun intended (”vacuum” and “sucked”)?

  23. comment number 23 by: Vivian Darkbloom

    I’m afraid so.

    It’s interesting to speculate on the names used by some of the posters here. For example, I’m wondering if AMTBuff is also based on some childhood hero (I hope not). SteveinCH might have something to do with inches, but it could also be someone writing from Switzerland. Jim Glass is almost certainly a wayward cousin of the infamous Glass family of JD Salinger lore.

  24. comment number 24 by: Jim Glass

    “Jim Glass is almost certainly a wayward cousin of the infamous Glass family of JD Salinger lore.”

    No, but I sure suffered from that back in high school.

    I’m a wayward cousin of another motley crew entirely.

  25. comment number 25 by: Brooks


    I assume AMT is particularly interested in the alternative minimum tax.

    I don’t recall if I know or just assume that Steve is “in” the city of “CHicago”.

    By the way, IIRC you mentioned once that you do not live in the U.S. May I ask where you live? (no problem if that’s none of my business)

  26. comment number 26 by: Vivian Darkbloom

    Of course, AMT probably refers that, it’s just that I thought it would be an unusual childhood pursuit (assuming, like yours, the monniker was inspired by a childhood hero).

    Re: “CH”, I thought it might refer to the “Confederatio Helvetica” which is the latin and therefore the linguistically neutral name for Switzerland and the international abbreviation which is ubiquitous on their license plates.

    As for myself, I am writing from the sunnier part of France where I retired after working almost my entire professional career in Europe (I left the US about the time Brooks hung up his vacuum cleaner). So, this is one of the ways in which I keep in touch with the natives and try to do my little bit to put my beloved homeland back on track.

  27. comment number 27 by: Brooks

    Good for you. Sounds nice.

  28. comment number 28 by: AMTbuff

    Yes, the handle refers to my early (starting more than 20 years ago) efforts to accurately predict my AMT liability for the year in time to adjust state and local tax payments for maximum benefit. Later I built an Excel file to graph AMT liability vs. income for any tax year under user-selectable assumptions.

    VD, please drop me an email at optimality at gmail and I will tell you what we have in common.