Swapping a VAT for failing income tax is good policy

Check out Bruce Bartlett on the VAT here. Rather than surrender, as Bartlett does, why not win?

Premise 1 – As our Federal government runs away from the entitlement mess they themselves created, some states are starting to see bankruptcy looming on the horizon. As the left clamors for tax increases to feed the beast, the right sits back and says “no” to everything, ignoring the fact that the left is going to get their tax increases by simple operation of time and demography. This may be good strategery in the short term, but the right is setting itself up for miserable failure, as they will forced to become the “tax collector for the welfare state.”

Premise 2 – The reliance on the income tax as a revenue generator has failed miserably. First, the right, since the 1980s, has been so successful in removing much of the working poor and middle class from the tax rolls. This makes much of the electorate immune to what is now pretty much a siren song for “tax cuts.” This has resulted in dramatically weakening one of the right’s most powerful political tools.

Second, the income tax is a horrible way to collect revenue. When times are good, only the rich now pay, and when times are bad, revenues collapse, as we can see in places that rely on the steeply progressive income tax (CA and National Budget). Add to this fact the negative impact that progressive income taxation has on investment and incentives, and you have a very destructive tax.

Premise 3 – The right, and this includes the libertarian and conservative think tank sector as well as the Republican party, is making a substantial strategic error in ignoring the potential (political and economic benefits) of a massive tax swap. By dissing every proposal for revenue increases (and No, tax cuts aren’t going to work with a $1.4 trillion deficit and a hangover from a 25 year spending/debt/tax cut binge), the right is falling for the trap of arguing for tax cuts for a shrinking class of people while arguing against a superior policy – namely broadening the tax base and making everyone pay for the welfare state that still has substantial political support.

If the above premises are substantially true – and I can make an extended and extensive case that they are – then our “center-right” leadership is failing us in merely saying “no” to all tax proposals, and gambling on the ability to drag this cycle of stupidity around one more time.

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