An interview with Steve Forbes
Steve Forbes, president and CEO of Forbes Inc., will be the keynote speaker at a sold-out 2012 Economic Forecast Luncheon hosted by the Anchorage Economic Development Corp. Jan. 25. Forbes, a Republican candidate for president in 1996 and 2000 who has long advocated a flat tax system, talked with the Journal about domestic energy policy, the race for the GOP nomination, the ‘Occupy’ movement and growing calls for tax reform.
When you think of Alaska, what comes to mind?
What first comes to mind is the natural resources and also the controversy about doing more exploration. Then of course if you’re sports-minded, the fishing, the tourism, the beauty of the state.
As an energy producing state with federal ownership of two-thirds of its land, Alaska is greatly impacted by energy policy in DC. What do you think of the current domestic energy policy?
Well, clearly this administration is anti-oil and gas. What’s amazing is despite their best efforts, the stuff is being produced in record numbers. Clearly Alaska would do well if they removed some of these unnecessary restrictions. I wish some of these folks would look at ANWR (Alaska National Wildlife Refuge). It’s not Disney World. It’s not a frolic in the park … You look at the administration’s reaction to the Keystone Pipeline. That was ready to get under way and would have started construction immediately. But they effectively — unless we get a new president — kyboshed that one.
With that (60-day) deadline to issue a ruling, do you expect President Obama will veto going forward with Keystone?
If he can’t find a legal way to kick it down the road past the election, I think he will kill it.
In your most recent op-ed, you predicted Obama would be a one-termer and the Republicans would take over the senate in 2013. With your criticisms of the current administration, are you still optimistic about the economic and political future of the nation?
I think yes. It’s going to be a turbulent year. We’re already seeing that in Europe. Greece is a disaster again, Hungary in trouble now. So that’s going to be a cloud in the sky. The U.S. economy, despite all the abuses put on it, is showing signs of life. Manufacturing is beginning to come back, employment is beginning to come back. We’re like an automobile on the open highway. We’re going 35 or 40 miles an hour when we should be going 70 or 75 miles an hour. It’s nothing to write home about. Things are starting to get better. There’s a lot of entrepreneurial energy in this country. We did a cover story a couple months ago about kids in college running businesses with $100,000 to $500,000 in revenues. Michael Dell conducted the roundtable, which was fun. I think it demonstrates that if we just create a hospitable environment, this country is ready to roar ahead.
You’re best known as a candidate for advocating the flat tax. Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 plan got a lot of attention, almost all the Republican candidates are supporting a flat tax and President Obama has at talked about corporate tax reform. Do you think the national conversation is moving in a direction where real tax reform can happen?
I think if the Republicans push the thing, there will be a mandate from the American people to make drastic changes. You got a little taste of it that it’s not just Republicans. The president’s deficit reduction commission didn’t come up with a flat tax, but did advocate taking out some of the clutter in the code and reducing rates across the board. Democrats signed on to that. So outside the White House there is a growing movement to simplify the tax code.
You endorsed Rick Perry in October and have advised him on his tax proposals. Are you disappointed with how his campaign has unfolded compared to his record in Texas?
It certainly got off to a rocky start with the debates and whether that was something he couldn’t overcome in Iowa, I’m hopeful he can do it in South Carolina. I think people on the campaign trail have responded well to his economic proposals. They did to (Newt) Gingrich’s, before he got carpet-bombed. (Rick) Santorum doesn’t have a flat tax, but a drastic simplification. The only one who hasn’t is (Mitt) Romney, who can’t break above 25 percent.
What do you think of the circular firing squad in the GOP right now? Are you worried about the tone damaging whoever emerges?
Not really. It’s very early in the process. It’s good to get the debates on the table now. We still have almost a year until November. Whoever emerges will be toughened and ready to take on an incumbent who is going to be using bazookas and flamethrowers and everything else against him. It’s good to get your footings now than to go in unprepared.
There has clearly been an “anybody but Romney” sentiment among GOP voters. What do you think of the Romney and if he is the nominee do you expect the party’s will rally to support him?
Most of the party will go with him if he’s the nominee. But there’s two critical areas he has to address to get any real energy from the party. One is taxation, coming up with a good simplified plan. Along those lines, he’s spoken in favor of the value-added tax. That is going to be poison. We’ve seen what that does in Europe. It only goes one direction. In England it started at 8 percent and is now at 20 percent. The Germans’ is over 20 percent, it’s everywhere you go. He’s got to get away from that. So on taxes, he’s got some work to do.
The other is health care. He put in an individual mandate in Massachusetts. He says he wouldn’t do it nationwide, fine, but he hasn’t answered the question of why he did it in Massachusetts. He may say he doesn’t believe the federal government should do it, but why does he believe in that kind of a mandate in the first place? Until he comes to grips with health care, he’ll lose a critical issue against the president.
What do you think of the “occupy” movement?
When you compare the numbers who were involved in that, a few thousand people, and compare to the numbers in the tea party movement and then look at the coverage and the flavor of the coverage. There’s a lot of sympathy for the occupiers and very little sympathy for the tea party people. I think that says it all. The tea party citizens had a huge impact politically. The occupiers, they don’t like student debt. That they made clear. In terms of changing the system, there’s not much there.