A Nugget Cause You Dug It

Mike Huckabee didn’t get much attention during and after last night’s debate. But he did create something of a buzz with this rap about the tax base for Social Security and Medicare benefits, in response to Chris Christie’s call for benefit reductions:

One of the reasons that Social Security is in so much trouble is that the only funding stream comes from people who get a wage. The people who get wages is declining dramatically. Most of the income in this country is made by people at the top who get dividends and — and capital gains.

The fair tax transforms the process by which we fund Social Security and Medicare because the money paid in consumption is paid by everybody, including illegals, prostitutes, pimps, drug dealers, all the people that are freeloading off the system now.

This has been treated by some observers as a headline-grabbing demagogic passage, and by others as some sort of reflection of the dark side of Christian evangelical social policy. Actually, it’s part of the standard base-broadening argument for the Fair Tax, which would substitute a national sales tax for both the income and payroll taxes. Huckabee’s been using it at least since 2008, per this quote from a debate that year in Boca Raton:

Everybody gets in the economy–no more underground economy. Drug dealers, prostitutes, pimps, gamblers, non-Republicans–all of those people out there will be paying taxes. Nobody’s working under the table.

The other part of Huck’s argument–that underground economy workers are “freeloaders” who are currently receiving Social Security and Medicare benefits–is dubious indeed; if you fake eligibility you’re probably contributing into the system under false pretenses. But it makes a for a good shocking argument to conservative audiences.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.