The meteoric rise of pizza executive turned presidential candidate Herman Cain is one of the most perplexing developments in the Republican Party’s pursuit for the White House. Virtually unknown a few months ago, Cain has gone from “flavor of the week” to front-runner in a lackluster field of GOP candidates. The former Godfather’s Pizza CEO can trace his newfound popularity to the 9-9-9 plan he crafted as his ultimate fix for our federal tax code.
Cain’s 9-9-9 plan would replace our current federal tax system with a business tax, flat income tax and a national sales tax at 9 percent each. Though the 9-9-9 plan is eerily similar to the tax structure in the video game SimCity, it is far from a joke. Disturbingly, the 9-9-9 plan is exactly the opposite of what most Americans want, as it provides a regressive structure that cuts taxes for the wealthy while raising taxes for the poor- and middle-classes.
While the Occupy Wall Street movement makes a statement about the inherent inequality in American economics, Cain is pursuing a path to tax reform that ignores this growing trend. The arrangement has even been labeled a “distributional monstrosity” by Bruce Bartlett, former adviser to Ronald Reagan, according to The New York Times.
Cain’s national sales tax is characterized as regressive because it does not itemize any exceptions for necessities that low-income brackets spend proportionally more on, such as food and clothing. Students are another group that would be disproportionately affected by his tax proposal. For example, students who were previously issued exemptions as dependents would be forced to pay income taxes.
The flat income tax proposed by Cain has also been almost universally acknowledged as regressive, despite new plans for a 9-0-9 alteration for those at or below the poverty line.
At last week’s GOP debate, Cain nonchalantly and repeatedly deflected opponents’ criticism of the plan by simply claiming their attacks were wrong. In his defense, he invited “every American to do their own math.” However, others have done math repeatedly and have come up with negative results. A former chief of staff of nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation has labeled 9-9-9 as “fiscal hocus-pocus.” Similarly, nonprofit organizations Factcheck.org and Politifact.com have called Cain’s plan “murky” and his promises “false”.
With the kind of self-assured cadence that engenders absolute trust, Cain pitches his signature plan with this gem: “When you expand the base, we can arrive at the lowest possible rate, which is 9-9-9.” Audience members at debates have delivered zealous applause time and time again to this line, but his message is far from populist. Cain’s expansion of the “base” clearly indicates that the burden of taxation would be shifted to the low- and middle-income brackets. This new “base” of revenue would include college students, as well.
Moreover, the 9-9-9 plan billed as a simple solution is actually a misleading distraction. Cain talks about his plan as if it is the end game, but it is really just an intermediate step toward his larger goal: “The Fair Tax.” The Fair Tax would replace all other federal taxes with a sales tax on goods and services ranging anywhere from 23 to 30 percent. For students, this would exacerbate the pain of gas or textbook costs with a combined federal-state sales tax of more than 30 percent. Such a large sales tax is hugely regressive because people in lower-income brackets spend a much larger proportion of their earnings than do those in upper brackets, who tend to invest more. Feasibility aside, neither the 9-9-9 nor the Fair Tax plans benefits Americans who are not in the upper echelons of wealth.
Cain’s transformation from long-shot dark horse to top-tier candidate is intriguing. If Cain’s popularity is not based on his economic know-how, it has to be based on something else. Almost every post on Cain’s Twitter account uses gratuitous exclamation marks, and it is hard not to be infected with his enthusiasm. His affability and optimism are often cited as reasons why Americans identify with him.
Though certainly jovial, Cain’s campaign is plagued with cringe-inducing gaffes that make even Joe Biden’s worst lines seem tame by comparison. Cain recently proposed that an electric fence be built along the Mexico-US border, according to USA Today, and he once said that he neither knew nor cared who the “president of Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan” was, according to CNN. Both statements were later claimed to be “jokes.”
Herman Cain, though probably unelectable, is mostly being lauded for his bold and unique approach to campaigning.
Cain recently told the Wall Street Journal, “If you don’t have a job and you’re not rich, blame yourself.” Cain and his forceful aphorisms may be changing the way the GOP approaches its base, but 9-9-9 is an injurious proposal that is out of touch with the current political climate.
Katsounas is a finance and government sophomore.