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Posts Tagged ‘National Sales Tax’

I like the overall approach of Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 tax plan. As I recently wrote, it focuses on lower tax rates, elimination of double taxation, and repeal of corrupt and inefficient loopholes.

But I included a very important caveat. The intermediate stage of his three-step plan would enable politicians to impose both an income tax and a national sales tax. I wrote in my earlier post that I had faith in Herman Cain’s motives, but I was extremely uncomfortable with the idea of letting the crowd in Washington have an extra source of revenue.

After all, Europe’s welfare states began their march to fiscal collapse and economic stagnation after they added a version of a national sales tax on top of their pre-existing income taxes.

But it seems that I was too nice in my analysis of Mr. Cain’s plan. Josh Barro and Bruce Bartlett are both claiming that the business portion of Cain’s 9-9-9 is a value-added tax (VAT) rather than a corporate income tax.

In other words, instead of being a 9 percent flat tax-9 percent sales tax-9 percent corporate tax, Cain’s plan is a 9 percent flat tax-9 percent sales tax-9 percent VAT.

Let’s elaborate. The business portion of Cain’s plan apparently does not allow employers to deduct wages and salaries, which means – for all intents and purposes – that they would levy a 9 percent withholding tax on employee compensation. And that would be in addition to the 9 percent they presumably would withhold for the flat tax portion of Cain’s plan.

Employers use withholding in the current system, of course, but at least taxpayers are given credit for all that withheld tax when filling out their 1040 tax forms. Under Cain’s 9-9-9 plan, however, employees would only get credit for monies withheld for the flat tax.

In other words, there are two income taxes in Cain’s plan – the 9 percent flat tax and the hidden 9 percent income tax that is part of the VAT (this hidden income tax on wages and salaries, by the way, is a defining feature of a VAT).

This doesn’t make Cain’s plan bad from a theoretical perspective. The underlying principles are still sound – low tax rates, no double taxation, and no loopholes.

But if I was uneasy when I thought that the 9-9-9 plan added a sales tax on top of the income tax, then I am super-duper-double-secret-probation uneasy about adding a sales tax and a VAT on top of the income tax.

Here’s my video on the VAT, which will help you realize why this pernicious tax would be a big mistake.

Again, this doesn’t make Cain wrong if we’re grading based on economics or philosophy. My anxiety is a matter of real-world political analysis. I don’t trust politicians with new sources of revenue. Whether we give them big new sources of revenue or small new sources of revenue, they will always figure out ways of pushing up the tax rates so they can waste more money trying to buy votes.

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If you go to the IRS website, there are about one thousand forms (and accompanying material such as instruction documents) that you can download.

Fortunately, most of us only have to worry about a small fraction of what’s on that list, but it’s still a nightmare – and one that gets worse every year because politicians have an endless appetite for manipulating our lives and auctioning off new loopholes for campaign cash.

So let’s take a few minutes to review the features of a tax system that is simple and fair (and pro-growth). I’m talking about the flat tax, which now is successfully working in about 30 nations.

Just a quick caveat for my friends who prefer the national sales tax. Yes, that system also would be a vast improvement. But since the Fair Tax or something like that would require a constitutional amendment to ensure that politicians couldn’t impose both a sales tax and income tax, that’s more of a long-term project.

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While watching my interview with Dambisa Moyo, I noticed C-Span has an easy-to-use archive system that shows all previous appearances.

This was an opportunity for some narcissistic reminiscing, beginning with my first appearance in 1990 (which I shared with a friend, who laughed at my “Justin Bieber haircut”).

But I was especially pleased to find my debate with Bruce Bartlett about the national sales tax or Fair Tax.

Some readers occasionally give me a hard time about devoting a lot of time and effort to promoting the flat tax, while not paying enough attention to the national sales tax. I’ve explained that this is because I think the flat tax is more politically feasible, but the C-Span debate should demonstrate that I am more than happy to vigorously defend the Fair Tax when given the opportunity.

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I spoke at the Tea Party Patriots convention earlier today. Great people, great crowd.

My job was to debate on the side of the flat tax over the fair tax. Several people asked for more information, and I promised to put this video on the blog. Long-time readers probably will have seen it before, but it’s always good to be reminded why we need tax reform – and also reminded why we can’t trust politicians with a new source of revenue.

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In the past 15 years, I’ve debated in favor of a national sales tax, testified before Congress on the merits of a national sales tax, gone on TV to advocate for the national sales tax, and spoken with dozens of reporters to explain why the national sales tax is a good idea. Even though I prefer the flat tax, I’ve been an ardent defender of sales tax proposals such as the FAIR tax because it would be a great idea to replace the current system with any low-rate system that gets rid of the tax bias against saving and investment. I even narrated this video explaining that a national sales tax and flat tax are different sides of the same coin – and therefore either tax reform proposal would significantly improve prosperity and competitiveness.

I will continue to defend the FAIR tax and other national sales tax proposals that replace the income tax, but I wonder whether this is a losing battle. Every election cycle, candidates that endorse (or even say nice things about) the FAIR tax wind up getting attacked and put on the defensive. Their opponents are being dishonest, and their TV ads are grossly misleading, but they are using this approach because the anti-FAIR tax message is politically effective. Many pro-tax reform candidates have lost elections in favorable states and districts, largely because their opponents were able to successfully demagogue against a national sales tax.

The Wall Street Journal reaches the same conclusion, opining this morning about the false – but effective – campaign against candidates who support a national sales tax.

In 16 House and three Senate races so far, Democrats have blasted GOP candidates for at one point or another voicing an interest in the FAIR tax. …FAIR tax proponents are right to say these Democratic attacks are unfair and don’t mention the tax-cutting side of the proposal, but the attacks do seem to work. Mr. Paul’s lead in Kentucky fell after the assault, and the issue has hurt GOP candidate Ken Buck in a close Colorado Senate race. In a special House election earlier this year in Pennsylvania, Democrat Mark Critz used the FAIR tax cudgel on Republican opponent Tim Burns. In a district that John McCain carried in 2008, Mr. Critz beat the Republican by eight points and is using the issue again in their rematch. This is a political reality that FAIR taxers need to face. …in theory a consumption tax like the FAIR tax is preferable to an income tax because it doesn’t punish the savings and investment that drive economic growth. If we were designing a tax code from scratch, the FAIR tax would be one consumption tax option worth debating. But…voters rightly suspect that any new sales tax scheme will merely be piled on the current code.

We won’t know until next Tuesday what is going to happen in Kentucky and Colorado, and we won’t know until then what will happen in the other campaigns where the FAIR tax is an issue. But if there are two tax reform plans that achieve the same objective, why pick the approach that faces greater political obstacles?

FAIR tax proponents presumably could defuse some of the attacks by refocusing their efforts so that repealing the income tax is the top priority. This would not require any heavy lifting since all honest proponents of a national sales tax want to get rid of the 16th Amendment and replace it with something that unambiguously prohibits any direct tax on income. So why not lead with that initiative, and have the national sales tax as a secondary proposal? This is what I propose in the video, and I think it would be much harder for demagogues to imply that a FAIR tax would mean a new tax on top of the corrupt system that already exists.

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After my recent post on “bashing the IRS,” I got several emails and comments asking whether a national sales tax might be a better idea than the flat tax. I’m a big fan of proposals such as the Fair Tax. I’ve debated in favor of the national sales tax, done media interviews in favor of the national sales tax, written in favor of the national sales tax, and even defended the national sales tax in congressional testimony. As far as I’m concerned, we should junk the IRS for some type of single-rate, consumption-base (meaning no double taxation), loophole-free system. The flat tax is the most well-know approach for achieving these goals, but the national sales tax also would work. Indeed, the two plans are different sides of the same coin. A sales tax takes a piece of your income (but only one time and at one low rate) when it is spent, and a flat tax grabs a slice of your income (but only one time and at one low rate) when it is earned.

So why, then, do I devote most of my energies to a sales flat tax? The answer is that I don’t trust politicians. I fear that they will pull a bait-and-switch, and implement something like a Fair Tax but never complete the deal by getting rid of the income tax. The European experience certainly serves as a warning. Nations across Europe began implementing their version of a national sales tax (the value-added tax) in the late 1960s. Voters often were told that other taxes would be eliminated or reduced. But all the evidence shows that VATs simply led to a much higher tax burden and a much bigger burden of government.

I don’t want that to happen in America, as I explained 13 years ago for Reason and two years ago for the Media Research Center. But this video is probably the best summary of my argument.

By the way, some fans of the Fair Tax say the solution to this problem is an amendment to the Constitution. I fully agree, but then I point out that there are not even enough votes to approve a watered-down balanced budget amendment, so that seems an unlikely path to success. That being said, if we ever reach this point, and are able to repeal the 16th Amendment and replace it with something that unambiguously would stop the politicians from ever burdening America with an income tax, I will gladly offer my support and push a national sales tax

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I only vaguely remember this debate that took place at Furman University, and I never saw this recording until it arrived in my inbox today. I invite fans of both the flat tax and FairTax to watch this debate and let me know your thoughts.

Many of my arguments, by the way, also apply to the debate on the value-added tax. Simply stated, I don’t trust politicians when they claim a VAT won’t be used to increase the overall burden of government.

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