Smart ideas: The Presidency Hasn’t Been the Same Since Vietnam

Uber drivers and their supporters protest in front of the offices of the Taxi and Limousine Commission in New York on May 28, 2015.
AP Photo/Seth Wenig
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Sept. 13, 2017, 8 p.m.

Tax reform needs to consider the gig economy

Eric Boehm, writing for Reason

As Congress “mulls a rewrite” of the tax code, it should consider the 2.5 million people working in the gig economy, also known as the sharing economy. The current code hurts these workers because it is ambiguous and often too costly to navigate. Though some workers rely on gig-economy jobs—such as Uber or Airbnb—for all their income, most just use it for extra cash. That’s where the code gets more complicated, as freelancers and contractors find themselves trying to navigate a thicket of exemptions and deductions, or incurring the expense of hiring a professional tax preparer. Lawmakers are already proposing changes: One bill labels gig-economy workers as independent contractors, which helps minimize the confusion, and another bill would “allow gig-economy platforms to offer income-tax withholdings.” Granted, these considerations are only part “of the complicated political balancing act that is tax reform.” But failing to address their concerns leaves gig workers “stuck in a system designed long before their current jobs ever existed.”

Vietnam tarnished the presidency

Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, writing for The Atlantic

The Vietnam War broke the public’s trust in the presidency, and the institution hasn’t recovered. “This radical diminution of trust” accumulated over time, from the Gulf of Tonkin through the publication of the Pentagon Papers to the abandonment of Saigon. It actually continues today because the three presidents responsible—Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon—recorded their thoughts, and those recordings continue to become available, demonstrating their fallibility. “It is no coincidence that the last president to inspire” trust and reverence was Kennedy—“the last president elected before the Vietnam War began in earnest.”

Lyndon B. Johnson AP Photo/File

Plans for taxing overseas profits won't work

The Editors, writing for The Economist

Politicians on both sides have “eyed greedily” taxing corporate overseas profits, but it would be a failed endeavor. It was already tried in 2004: “Firms were charged a bargain rate of 5.25 percent, instead of the usual 35 percent,” but “repatriations did not increase domestic investment or employment.” The low rates proposed by both parties “make little sense.” In 2016, House Republicans “proposed a rate of just 8.75 percent; Mr. Trump’s plans have suggested a 10 percent levy. If firms are forced to repatriate cash, there is an argument for a discount from 35 percent. … But go too low and the government would just be giving shareholders an unexpected payday.”

D.C. isn't the place for Amazon

Megan McArdle, writing for Bloomberg View

Amazon’s search for a second headquarters may well settle on D.C., where Jeff Bezos already owns a home (and a newspaper), but it may not be the best fit for residents. “More than any other city in America, it is an upper-middle-class kind of place: Almost anyone with a college diploma can get a job, but few of them are going to be retiring to their own private island. … Dump 50,000 Amazon employees into this housing market, and the federal service’s GS-13s will find themselves in even more frenzied bidding wars for the area’s tight housing stock.” Rail, road, and bus infrastructure is another major concern, as is the Height Act that makes finding “the kind of real estate that you’d need for a tech campus, within reasonable walking distance of a Metro stop … challenging and pricey.”

Jeff Bezos in the State Dining Room of the White House on May 5, 2016 AP Photo/Susan Walsh
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