Moneybox
A blog about business and economics.

March 27 2015 1:35 PM

Marijuana Is Changing the Workplace. Here's How Employers Should Deal With It.

This post was originally published in Inc.

With medical marijuana legal in 23 states and Washington, D.C., there are now millions of card-carrying cannabis users working at companies across the U.S. While four states and the District have legalized recreational marijuana use, pot is still illegal under federal law, and many business owners still subscribe to the plant's Reefer Madness stigma and don't want to allow people to smoke on the job. For some of those owners, that can mean getting sued for failing to accommodate an employee who has a medical condition.

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Regardless of how you feel about marijuana, there are certain rules employees and employers need to follow when it comes to drugs in the workplace. If you make a mistake, you could find yourself in court. Todd Wulffson, a partner at California-based employment and labor law firm Carothers DiSante & Freudenberger, is one of the many lawyers who have been busy defending employers in these types of cases. Wulffson says that to protect your business you need to update your employment policies and human resources programs, and train all managers.

First, employers need to be familiar with the laws that have been passed in their states and consider a drug policy that doesn't prohibit employees from using cannabis on their own time. With 86 percent of Americans supporting medical marijuana, an overly restrictive policy may chase some of your workers to another employer. Marijuana, while still classified as a Schedule I drug without medical use, does have medical benefits, and a bipartisan bill to make medical marijuana legal on the federal level has been introduced in the Senate. 

Until then, employers need to take steps to avoid becoming a target of an employee lawsuit (whether the employee would have a strong case or not). "There are four scenarios that play out in these types of lawsuits that I see over and over again," Wulffson says.

1. Innocent inquiry

The first scenario is when an employee or an applicant innocently asks the question "'I just wanted to know, would you accommodate my use of medical marijuana?'" "That's a loaded question because you have to accommodate the underlying disability of the medical condition," Wulffson says. "But you don't have to accommodate being stoned at work."

If the query is put to the human resources department, the HR person should tell the employee that the company will accommodate his condition. At the same time, the employee should explain his condition, the treatment, and exactly what kind of accommodation he needs so you can have a dialogue about it. Where most companies falter is when a manager doesn't know the company policy and speaks out of turn.

"If an employee asks a line manager, they could easily say, 'Hell no! We don't accommodate stoners! You can't be stoned at work!'" Then the employee says, "Gee, I got glaucoma and I was hoping you'd accommodate my condition." If the manager doesn't tell the employee to go talk to HR and fires them, Wulffson warns, the result may be a lawsuit.

2. An ill employee stoned at work

The second scenario, Wulffson says, is when an employee with a serious disease is under the influence at work and gets called on the carpet: "The employee will say, 'I am getting treated for cancer and I am going through chemo. The only thing that helps is medical marijuana and I had to smoke a bowl at lunch to keep from throwing up. I am really sorry, I'll do something light until it wears off.'" Wulffson says that although you may have sympathy for the employee's situation, the only way to protect yourself from litigation is to institute a zero-tolerance policy for the use of any drugs, including medical marijuana, while at work.

Keep in mind, however, that if you are in a state that mandates employers accommodate medical marijuana (i.e., Arizona, Delaware, or Minnesota) you cannot fire a medical marijuana card-holding employee for a positive marijuana test. While it is indeed advisable to have a drug policy prohibiting marijuana use during work hours, you don't need to know about what employees are doing on their own time.

3. The future smoker

Wulffson says he's currently representing three clients who are in this situation: The employee comes to you and says she's suffering from anxiety or glaucoma and needs to deal with the symptoms. She tells you she's about to go outside, walk 50 feet away from the building, smoke, and come back. "They're telling you they're going to do it, but they are not stoned right now, so you don't have the right to fire them right now," he says. "But, invariably, the manager says, 'No, no, no, no. Go home, stay home, you're fired.'" 

Wulffson says you should not allow the employee to smoke while at work, but you can make allowances. Say something like this: "We will reasonably accommodate your condition, but we cannot allow you to be under the influence while on the clock—it's too risky for the company. You can go home for the rest of the day and come back tomorrow."

4. Social media smokers

Here, an employee goes on Facebook or Twitter and sees pictures of an applicant smoking a joint. The employee then emails the hiring manager to discourage him from hiring the person. When the candidate finds out you saw the photos, Wulffson says, "that's when they claim you didn't hire them because of either a perceived disability" and/or because you don't want to provide an accommodation for them. 

You might find this is frivolous, but there are lawyers out there looking to cash in. "There is a cottage industry of lawyers that do nothing but bring claims related to medical marijuana against employers," Wulffson says. "Google 'medical marijuana rights' and you'll find 50 lawyers who write well-written letters about how you didn't accommodate the employee and you're getting sued for hundreds of millions of dollars, but today they'll take $15,000 to go away."

Wulffson says these lawsuits are catching a lot of employers off guard because of the confusion over medical marijuana laws. "It may be legal in many states, but it's still a federal crime," he says. California and other states will not prosecute someone with a medical card who is carrying less than a certain amount, but that's not a blanket permission. "You can't go on federal property, you can't work for a federal employer," he says. "'Don't work for a federal contractor because you could be fired and maybe jailed."

When it comes to drug use at work—whether it is an employee with cancer smoking marijuana or one popping Xanax to deal with anxiety—Wulffson suggests you should adopt a simple, straightforward company policy that reads something like this: "We don't allow the use of, the possession, or being under the influence of any illegal drug in the workplace. 'Illegal drug' is defined as 'the abuse of over-the-counter medication, prescription medication, medical marijuana, and alcohol."

Additionally, Wulffson says, make sure you train all of your managers to answer questions. "If anything from any employee looks, sounds, or smells like they have a medical condition or medical marijuana issue, refer them to HR," he says. "The biggest issue I see is that companies don't get the word out and the line managers say and do things that get the company sued."

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March 27 2015 12:20 PM

How to Make Americans Love the “Death Tax”

By all rights, the federal estate tax should be an extremely popular piece of policy. Most Americans believe that the wealthy should pay more of their money to the IRS. And while not everybody agrees on what constitutes affluence these days, the government only taxes estates worth at least $5.43 million dollars. In 2013, 2.6 million people died in this country, and only 4,700 of them had to pay any taxes as a goodbye gift to the government. We're talking about a levy on the 0.2 percent.

And yet the estate tax is not popular. Polls frequently show that most Americans would like to reduce or repeal it. When the House Ways and Means Committee, led by Rep. Paul Ryan, voted in favor of a bill that would scrap the tax altogether, it was, oddly, both a sop to the rich and probably good politics.

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There may be a simple reason for this. And no, it's not because Republicans started calling the estate tax the “death tax,” or because the public believes that heirs have a God-given right to inherit their parents' second home in the Hamptons without paying a fee. Rather, Americans seem to vastly misunderstand how many families are subject to the tax. And it's possible that simply providing them with better information might actually boost support for increasing it.

At least, that's what one experiment by economists Ilyana Kuziemko, Michael Norton, Emmanuel Saez, and Stefanie Stantcheva suggests. In it, the team surveyed 10,000 individuals about how the government should respond to rising inequality. One group of participants was shown a presentation beforehand about the history and extent of income gap, which included information on how many households actually pay the estate tax. The other group took the survey cold. While the educational exercise did make people more concerned about inequality, it didn't seem to change their minds much about policy. The two cohorts offered similar answers when asked, for instance, what the top income tax rate should be, or whether the government should increase funding for food stamps. However, the presentation did seem to affect opinions on two issues. It drove up enthusiasm for a higher minimum wage, but only slightly. And it more than tripled support for hiking the estate tax.

Why the huge swing? In a follow-up experiment, the researchers found that participants who saw the presentation were much, much more likely to accurately answer how many families are subject the estate tax. This suggested that many people disliked the policy because they overestimated how many households were paying it.

To be fair, the response may not have been entirely rational. The researchers found that simply presenting survey-takers with facts about the estate tax made them a little more likely to support an increase. Showing them the same facts next to a picture of a mansion, it turned out, was far more effective. Democrats, take note.

March 25 2015 7:15 PM

Atlanta Might Be Getting Dumber

On the whole, educational attainment is rising among America's young adults. That trend holds true in the vast majority of large cities. But there could be one big exception lurking in the heart of the New South.

Earlier today, I was looking at a 2014 report by City Observatory on trends in college-degree completion among 25-to-34-year-olds in metro areas with at least 1 million residents. Out of the 51 cities analyzed, Atlanta was the only one where a smaller percentage of that demographic had earned at least a bachelor's than in 2000, according to Census Bureau data. The city's concentration of brain power, it seems, might be thinning out ever so slightly.  

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Emphasis on the word might. The 0.3 percentage point decline is well within the American Community Survey's 1 percentage point margin of error. So the fall may not, in fact, be a fall.1 Still, these figures suggest that the education level among Atlanta's twenty- and thirtysomethings is, at best, stagnating, even compared with other cities at the bottom 10 of City Observatory's ranking. As the New York Times noted a while back, the total size of the city's "young, educated population has increased just 2.8 percent since 2000, significantly less than its overall population." How come? The paper theorized that the region "is suffering the consequences of overenthusiasm for new houses and new jobs before the crash, economists say." In blunter terms, Atlanta rode a wave of hype and is kind of over.

Personally, I don't want to overinterpret these numbers, for now at least. But I can't imagine they bode well for the city.

1 Just to reinforce that point, City Observatory relies on the the ACS one-year estimates, which are a little  volatile. The ACS three-year estimate for Atlanta, which includes data from 2010 to 2012, says 35.2 percent of 25-to-34-year-olds in Atlanta have a college degree, a tiny bit above the 2000 number.

March 25 2015 11:38 AM

Republicans Are Still Obsessed With Cutting Taxes for Rich Heirs

Wednesday afternoon, the Paul Ryan–led House Ways and Means Committee plans to make a statement of solidarity with America's wealthy young socialites by voting on a bill to eliminate the estate tax. While mostly symbolic at this point, it's another small and useful reminder that the Republican Party is nothing if not dedicated to making sure millionaires pay the absolute minimum amount of money to the IRS.

And truly, we're just talking about millionaires at this point. Currently, the government only taxes estates worth $5.43 million in the case of a deceased individual, or $10.86 million for a married couple—which impacts just the richest 0.2 percent of Americans, according to the Center on Budget Policy and Priorities. Fifteen years ago, when the tax kicked in around $675,000 per person, it only affected the wealthy. Now it only affects the super-wealthy.

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Conservatives would, of course, object to this characterization. Their main knock against the "death tax," as they like to call it, is that it supposedly discourages saving and investment. The idea is that people have less incentive to keep their money in stocks or bonds if the government is only going to take a huge slice of it once death comes knocking. Beyond that, they claim it creates problems for family-owned businesses and, of course, farms. If a 50-year-old restaurant or cattle ranch doesn't have enough cash on hand to cover the full tax bill, theoretically heirs can be forced to sell some assets in order to pay the government its cut.  

How important are these concerns in real life? Not especially. What little research has been done on the subject suggests that higher taxes may shrink estates by a small amount, but as Columbia University economist Wojciech Kopczuk writes, it's unclear how much of that is because people really save less over the course of their lifetime, or because they just find ways to avoid taxes once they get closer to death. As for the possibility that someone might have to sell off the family farm? That doesn't seem to happen all too often, either. The Congressional Budget Office found that back in 1999, just 12 percent of farm estates didn't have enough cash or other liquid assets on hand to pay their tax liability. Given that the tax had a much wider reach then, the fraction is probably even smaller today.

Even when families do have to pay the estate tax, the reality is that the bite isn't necessarily that large. The top statutory rate is 40 percent, yes. But thanks to exemptions, the Tax Policy Center estimates that the average effective rate is actually closer to 17 percent.

The bottom line is that the estate tax is already much diminished. But slashing it would still cost the government about $268 billion over 10 years. Which, again, would be a nice gift to the top 0.2 percent.

March 24 2015 6:00 PM

Millions of Olive Trees Could Be Chopped Down in Italy to Contain a Devastating Blight

The olive tree groves of South Italy are currently facing two grave threats. The first is from Xylella fastidiosa, a potentially devastating bacterial disease—the second from European Union efforts to contain it.

The European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, believes that at least 10 percent of the 11 million olive trees in Lecce, a southern province of Italy, may be infected with Xylella fastidiosa, an infection known to harm olive trees as well as citrus fruits and grapes. To halt the spread of the disease, the commission has already urged Italy to cut down all infected trees and is expected to propose new emergency measures at a meeting later this week.

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But a representative for the European Food Safety Authority told the BBC that even those efforts might not be enough. “Even trees not showing symptoms might carry the bacteria, which makes it really difficult,” he said.

Italy has historically been the second biggest olive oil producer in the EU after Spain. From 2013 to 2014, it accounted for some 461,000 tons, or nearly one-third, of the total 1.5 million tons the bloc produced, according to data from the International Olive Council. For the current year, though, that output is expected to plummet to just over 300,000 tons, putting Italy roughly on par with Greece and far behind Spain.

Combined with a bad drought in Spain, the blight has pushed olive oil prices sky-high. In December, the International Monetary Fund said that premium-quality extra virgin olive oil had climbed to $4,282 a ton—the highest wholesale price since 2008. In February, the price added another nearly 5 percent from the previous month.

What’s this mean for olive oil consumers in the United States? “I suppose to the extent that it tightens up the supply a little bit, it would have an impact, since the U.S. is the largest importer of olive oil,” says Dan Flynn, executive director of the University of California–Davis Olive Center. “At the same time, Italy consumes more olive oil than it produces, so how much of that olive oil makes it over here is a little unclear.”

At any rate, a tighter supply of olive oil globally might end up giving a slight boost to California’s burgeoning olive oil scene. While U.S. olive oil production is still a small part of the international market, it’s increased tenfold to 10,000 tons since 2007, and growers in California have been seeking quality regulations that would make them more competitive with European producers. In the short term, Xylella fastidiosa might end up doing the same.

March 24 2015 11:22 AM

Maybe the Rich Don’t Care About the Middle Class Because They Don’t Live Near the Middle Class

When people say Americans are dividing along class lines, they usually mean it as a metaphor. But it's also true in a literal sense. When it comes to where we live, the rich, poor, and shrinking middle class have been moving further apart. Cornell University's Kendra Bischoff and Stanford University's Sean Reardon report that in 1970, 65 percent of U.S. families resided in middle-income neighborhoods. By 2009, that number was down to 42 percent. Meanwhile, the fraction of households in very affluent or very poor neighborhoods more than doubled.

I first came across this chart, which is a few years old now, while reading Robert Putnam's Our Kids earlier this month. While the conversation around the book has died down a bit, I wanted to share the chart because of how vividly it illustrates the way Americans are physically divvying themselves up by income, becoming both geographically and socially more remote from each other, and possibly perpetuating class distinctions into the next generation. In a landmark study of income mobility around the United States, for instance, Harvard University economist Raj Chetty and his collaborators found that poor children were generally less likely to rise up the income ladder as adults if they grew up in areas where low-income families were especially isolated. In other words, it's really, really hard to escape a dirt-poor neighborhood.

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The fact that the rich have walled themselves off is also troublesome, however. By self-segregating, wealthy families pool their resources in just a handful of communities. At the same time, they're less likely to know middle-class neighbors and may be less likely to care about what's happening in less fortunate corners of their city or town. As Bischoff and Reardon note, the more the rich keep to their own, the less reason they have to worry about public schools or parks for someone else's kids. (They put it in dryer academic terms, but that's the gist.)  

And over the past 30 years, the rich have in fact done an even better job isolating themselves than the poor, as this additional graph from Bischoff and Reardon shows. Interestingly, well-off families were actually integrating into less wealthy neighborhoods through the 1970s. But by the Reagan era, they started gating themselves off from the rest of the country. It's only helped ensure that everybody else's problems aren't theirs.  

March 24 2015 11:10 AM

Taco Bell Thinks You’re Living in a Terrifying Breakfast Dystopia

Taco Bell has a terrifying culinary vision—and no, it’s not on the menu.

In “Routine Republic,” a new ad released online Monday, Taco Bell gives us the stuff of dystopian fast-food nightmares: a society in which everyone must eat the same breakfast every day. “It’s another perfect morning in the Routine Republic, where happiness is eating the same breakfast,” a woman’s voice chirps as our protagonist wakes up. We watch him pass a decrepit yellow slide, head into a gray square, and join a queue. A black-gloved hand passes him a generic ham-and-egg sandwich. An army of clowns (part-Joker, part-Soviet, all terrifying) patrols the crowd.

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And then ... defiance! Our protagonist unfolds a piece of paper with a secret symbol and the word “defect.” He and our supporting character (who looks a lot like The Hunger GamesKatniss) exchange knowing nods before darting away, a mob of clowns in pursuit. At the edge of the gray, drab land, they tumble into a ball-pit moat, then pull down a propaganda poster to reveal a vivid, magical breakfast land where dozens of millennials are happily consuming Taco Bell breakfast sandwiches.

Freedom!

While Taco Bell hasn’t gone so far as to label its dystopian breakfast regime “McDonald’s,” don’t doubt that that’s the idea. The “same breakfast” sandwiches are stand-ins for the Egg McMuffin; the clowns are Ronald McDonald’s evil Eastern Bloc cousins; the decrepit playground slide is a remnant of a McDonald’s Playland. Taco Bell also has a well-established record of taking digs at McDonald’s in its ad campaigns. Last year, the company enlisted famed documentarian Errol Morris to film real-life people named Ronald McDonald declaring their love for Taco Bell’s breakfast offerings.

Fictionalized drama aside, it isn’t even that much of a stretch to compare McDonald’s to a breakfast dictator. The Golden Arches has historically commanded the lion’s share of the more than $30 billion market for fast-food breakfast; recently, breakfast has remained a lone bright spot in the chain’s otherwise beleaguered business. Taco Bell and its peers would dearly love to steal away some of that market share, and so the fast-food breakfast wars have raged. In March of 2014, Taco Bell introduced an entirely revamped breakfast menu led by the waffle taco, a syrupy fold of eggs and meat that won the chain significant social points, if zero culinary victories.

With a new breakfast push under way, though, Taco Bell is making some changes. The biscuit taco is reportedly taking over this week as standard-bearer in Taco Bell’s campaign against the Routine Republic. The now-missing waffle taco, it seems, has been sacrificed as tribute.

March 23 2015 5:52 PM

The World’s Taxi Unions May Have Just Convinced the U.N. to Stop Working With Uber

Between March 10 and 11, Uber published at least 30 posts on its various city and country blogs trumpeting its “vision for equality”—a plan to create 1 million jobs for women globally on the Uber platform by the year 2020. “We are proud to share with The Uber Community that we are embarking on a new global partnership with UN Women with the goal of accelerating economic opportunity for women,” the company wrote. (Here’s one of those posts that went up in Seattle, but the first three paragraphs were basically the same everywhere.)

Presumably, this was supposed to be an Uber initiative everyone could get behind. More equality, more jobs for women, and the approving stamp of the United Nations. What’s not to like? For a company that’s been dogged by bad press and regulatory challenges, the partnership was probably a welcome public relations coup. So it’s more than a bit awkward that on Friday, U.N. Women abruptly retracted its support for Uber just a week after the partnership began. Specifically, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the executive director of U.N. Women, said in a speech that the organization "will not accept an offer to collaborate on job creation with Uber.”

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Why the about-face? Well, before we get into that, I’ll note that both Uber and U.N. Women would prefer to pretend there was never any “global partnership” in the first place. “Uber global has provided sponsorship for the UN Women’s event to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action,” a spokeswoman for U.N. Women wrote in an email. “Beyond this event, we have not discussed opportunities to engage with Uber, including in the context of their commitment to create 1 million jobs for women in the next five years. At this point, we do not plan to expand the collaboration.” And from an Uber spokeswoman: “Uber was proud to sponsor the UN Women event last week, and we share their vision of accelerating economic opportunity for women globally. ... Uber will be seeking advice from UN Women and groups around the world on the best way to achieve the important goal of economic equality and opportunity for women.”

Either that onslaught of Uber posts about its new “global partnership” with U.N. Women resulted from a massive miscommunication, or something changed that neither party particularly wants to discuss. (When I replied to both U.N. Women’s and Uber’s statements pointing out this discrepancy, I received no response.) So what really happened?

Well, shortly after Uber made its initial announcement, the International Transport Workers’ Federation, an umbrella association of unions representing more than 4.5 million workers, sent an open letter to U.N. Women denouncing the partnership and the broader “sharing economy.” The part-time, independent-contractor jobs that Uber offers, the group wrote, will increase “informal, piecemeal work” that “contributes significantly to women’s economic dis-empowerment and marginalization across the globe.” More union outcry followed. Soon afterward, U.N. Women reversed course.

The big problem with ITF’s statement is that no one really knows how worried we should be about the “sharing economy” and the proliferation of independent-contractor jobs, so for the moment people are mostly voicing opinions that are convenient for them. In late January, Uber released a study arguing that the jobs it offers are filling a hole in the economy by giving people the chance to set their own schedules and work on their own terms. In that paper, it noted that “women driver-partners,” which make up 14 percent of its workers in the U.S., “were more likely than men to highlight the need for flexibility as a reason for becoming a partner with Uber.” ITF, on the other hand, includes multiple associations of taxi workers, and as pretty much everyone knows, the taxi lobby hates Uber. And what we do know is that Uber and services like it are making things much more difficult for traditional cabbies by increasing competition and cutting into their market share.

It may not be a very helpful conclusion, but it's probably too soon to say whether Uber is good for women, bad for women, or not really good or bad, just different. The company is still moving ahead with its 1-million-jobs initiative and signing up other collaborators, including iCare Life in India, a group dedicated to training and educating drivers. Maybe U.N. Women will join back up at some point, and maybe it won’t. But it’s no wonder that U.N. Women would prefer that there had never been a partnership to begin with. When relatively little data exists on the economic impact of Uber jobs, caving so quickly to union pressure and strongly worded statements doesn’t exactly look great.

March 23 2015 5:51 PM

Update: The Job Market for Academics Is Still Terrifying

Has there ever been a moment when becoming a humanities Ph.D. was an especially rational career choice? Probably not. Like, I sincerely doubt anybody in the past 35 years has gone into German studies because they were looking for a stable paycheck. But with that caveat in hand, the academic employment market is still stuck in a particularly rotten rut from which it shows no particular signs of emerging. This month, the American Academy of Arts & Sciences analyzed the number of job postings in various disciplines, from English to religious studies. All of them were still far below their heights of 2008.

humanitiesjobads2

American Academy of Arts & Sciences

The academy does urge some "caution" in interpreting these figures, which provide a somewhat imprecise picture of the job market. Schools don't necessarily advertise all of their positions with the major academic societies, for instance, and some jobs are posted multiple times and in different places. However, economist Ronald Ehrenberg notes new research suggesting that, yes, the ads are probably a decent barometer for the health of academic hiring. Which, of course, is bad news.  

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Other indicators are equally disconcerting. Last summer, I posted this graph, based on the National Science Foundation's Survey of Earned Doctorates, showing that in 2012 just 56 percent of humanities Ph.D. recipients had secured a job or post-doc offer by graduation. In 2013, it looks like that number actually fell to about 54 percent. We don't know what the balance of full- and part-time jobs was in both years, but again, the trend isn't promising.

humanities_phd_graph_1

Jordan Weissmann

There are very obvious reasons why hiring would still be so sparse. Particularly, states slashed higher-education spending during the recession and have yet to restore the cuts. Without government spending, the number of new jobs in English or history probably isn't going to recover. 

And yet, campuses keep churning out larger classes of humanities grad students. While jobs might be down from 2008, the number of new doctorate holders in most fields is up. If you've wondered why some adjunct professors are basically getting paid Walmart wages these days, that's your fundamental answer. When it comes to academic talent, there's lots of supply, and evidently not a great deal of demand.

phd_production

Jordan Weissmann

March 23 2015 12:25 PM

Ted Cruz Has a Weird Obsession With Abolishing the IRS. About That.

Ted Cruz announced today he is running for president. It is what it is. The first-term U.S. senator from Texas became famous as a conservative firebrand who made life hell for Congress' Republican leadership by helping force a government shutdown, ostensibly in a failed attempt to defund Obamacare, or at least make himself a semihousehold name. It'll be interesting to see if the man has a similar effect in the presidential primary. Will his mere presence force other candidates to veer hard-right in order to avoid looking insufficiently dogmatic, thus lighting aflame their chances in the general election? Or will he simply make Jeb Bush look palatably mild for the rest of the electorate? Time shall tell.

In any event, the conservative id now has an official candidate, which means some of his pet policy ideas will get a little more attention. My personal favorite, which he mentioned during his speech today, is Cruz's oft-repeated conviction that we should eliminate the Internal Revenue Service—or, as he now likes to half-jokingly put it these days, "abolish the IRS, take all 125,000 IRS agents and put them on our southern border.” Cruz says this would be his second priority, after repealing Obamacare (of course). And it's kind of fun to contemplate. The U.S.-Mexico border is 1,954 miles long. Assuming we rotated those 125,000 newly reassigned agents on three separate eight-hour shifts (gotta guard the border 24/7, after all), we could install one agent roughly every 250 feet. That's less than a football field, people. We could basically handle border security like the world's largest game of Red Rover. Weekends would be a little more porous, but that's what overtime pay is for.

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Still, getting rid of the IRS would leave the small matter of collecting taxes up in the air. Because, no, Cruz does not want to eliminate taxes altogether. Borrowing from Rick Perry and Steve Forbes before him, he wants to create a low, low flat tax that everybody could submit on a form the size of a postcard. Even that light level of taxation would require some enforcement, and his spokeswoman has previously acknowledged that the senator thinks there would need to be "a small department that would enforce the tax code.”

So, why bother with all this talk of abolishing the IRS altogether, if we'd need some government agency to do the exact same thing? It goes back to the conservative trope that President Obama has "weaponized" the IRS—remember the scandal over how it allegedly targeted Tea Party groups for audits?—and the only solution now is to tear out the whole bureaucracy, root and branch. “The last two years have fundamentally changed the dynamics of this debate [on the tax code],” Cruz said at a Heritage Foundation speech in January, “as we have seen the weaponization of the IRS, as we have seen the Obama administration using the IRS in a partisan manner to punish its political enemies.”

But enough tax talk. We look forward to hearing Cruz's plan for negotiating a Ukrainian peace deal through a game of Duck Duck Goose.*

*Correction, March 23, 2015: This post originally misspelled Ukrainian.

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