Tag: James Pethokoukis

The VAT Debate: Should Politicians in Washington Get a Huge New Source of Tax Revenue as a Reward for Overspending?

Based on five criteria, James Pethokoukis of Reuters connects the dots and warns that President Obama is going to propose a value-added tax.

Does President Obama have a secret plan to raise taxes on middle-class Americans — and,well, pretty much everybody else — with a European-style, value-added tax? Actually, it’s not such a big secret. …Obama’s campaign promise to not raise taxes on households making less than $250,000 a year was always considered a joke here inside the Beltway. …Maybe it was a joke inside the campaign, too. Since being elected, Obama has raised cigarette taxes and has advocated raising healthcare taxes, energy and small business taxes, in addition to corporate taxes. What’s more, economic advisers like Larry Summers seem eager to get rid of all the Bush tax cuts, not just those on so-called wealthy Americans. And it’s also no secret that economists love the idea of a VAT. It promotes savings over consumption, and its hidden nature may mean it has less behavioral impact on taxpayers. …Liberals love the idea of a VAT because it’s, well, so European — also because it does raise tons of revenue to expand government. And that is what Obama wants: more revenue to pay for bigger government. Is a VAT better than the soak-the-rich approach favored by Democrats such as Nancy Pelosi and Charlie Rangel? Sure. Of course, the concern is that a VAT would be in addition to new soak-the-rich taxes.

While the timing is unclear, his prediction is correct. The politicians in Washington want much bigger government, but they know that it will be difficult to achieve that goal without a big new source of revenue. The VAT would be perfect from their perspective. It is a form of national sales tax, but would be hidden in the price of products and therefore easy to increase. Moreover, every time they increase the VAT, they would use that as an excuse to raise income tax rates for “distributional fairness.” It is no exaggeration to say that the VAT is the biggest fiscal threat to the cause of limited government.

One final point about the column. Economists don’t love the VAT, per se, but they do view it as being less destructive - per dollar raised - than the income tax. But less destructive is still destructive. And since the VAT would be in addition to the taxes we have now (and actually create the conditions for higher income tax rates), its enactment would create a lose-lose situation for taxpayers.