IT WAS INTERESTING to learn of the "rescue the future" advertising plan organized by Peter G. Peterson, Richard Nixon's secretary of commerce. Peterson is joined in these efforts by almost all living former secretaries of the Treasury -- most of whom occupy powerful posts in the private sector. The group also includes corporate tycoons whose empires are -- or soon will be -- completely free from federal income taxation.
Where were these Monday morning quarterbacks during the hot days of August, 1981, when the tax code of the United States -- once considered the best and most fair in a world of tax injustice -- was ravaged, massacred and raided of three-quarters of a trillion dollars? The cult of "trickle- down" economics created a flash flood which has plunged the nation into a fiscal morass. Which of the Peterson wise men stood up to say, "Stop it, you are taking too much"?
Look at the Peterson proposals to hurt thee and not them. Although he recommends a $25-billion cut in defense spending, it is only 10 percent of the saving effort. Almost 90 percent of the tax recovery comes from the retired, the Social Security recipient and the individual taxpayer.
His plan makes no effort to recover tax losses from the corporate sector which he and his pals represent. The fiscal disaster of 1981 -- the misnamed "Economic Recovery Tax Act" -- drastically reduced corporate tax rates and entirely removed many corporations from the reach of federal income tax laws. If any of them are paying taxes, it will develop that they are paying only on a temporary basis -- they get it back in refunds. In many cases, they are making tax loans to the federal government which may yield better rates of return than current money market investments.
Under the corporate income tax laws, the government may soon be paying out nearly as much as it takes in. Unlike individuals, corporations can develop credits and tax rebates against taxes earned in earlier years. They have the privilege of carrying losses backwards and collecting taxes paid in better years.
For example, a commercial airline, needing new equipment and unable to use the tax write-offs that accompany such investments, can sell them to another company which can then get a rebate of taxes paid in earlier years. One recent buyer of the write- offs will be able to get a treasury refund of a hundred million dollars. (Mercifully, Congress voted last year to phase out the provisions that make these abuses legal.)
These curious provisions of American tax law have no counterpart anywhere in the world. As long as the nation countenances these tax withdrawal provisions, the Treasury of the United States is a massive sieve. The corporations of America -- particularly the large ones -- have "drawing rights" on the Treasury which may well exceed $300 billion. And if the corporations draw it out of the Treasury, the taxpayer will be expected to make it up and pay if back.
What did Peterson's "wise men" say about this budget buster? Nothing!
In spite of difficult times for many Americans who try to survive after taxes, one of the fastest growing business in America is the sale of tax shelters. Human ingenuity reaches it zenith in the systems being designed to bypass the tax collector.
Instead of putting a cap on Social Security and the entitlement programs, why not put a cap on sheltered income? Why not limit the shelter to no more than 35 percent or 50 percent of ordinary income? Why not put a cap on the "biggies?" If the American people ever found out what goes on in the "shelter" business, they would explode with indignation and disgust.
If the unemployed citizen could get back all of his previously paid taxes, he might be able to cope. If the large family of low or no income could sell or lease its dependency exemptions, they might need less in fodd stamps!
Peter Peterson, I know that you are willing to pay a tax on your Social Security or give it up entirely. That is a matter of small bucks for you. But are you willing to treat our budget deficit as a problem to be shared? Are you willing to extend the idea of a cap on write-offs and other perks in an even-handed way to the members of your club?