Friday, April 9, 2010

Bruce Bartlett and the VAT

Bruce has compiled his history of writings on the VAT, starting with his opposition to it in the mid 1980s. Here's an excerpt from a Heritage Foundation piece he wrote in 1985:

Without some overall constraint on the government's ability to tax and spend, it would seem inferior even to today's hodge-podge of taxes. And there is absolutely no just ification for a VAT as a new revenue-raiser. ... An economically neutral tax system, one that removes impediments to work, savings, and investment, while not distorting investment decisions, is clearly desirable. The VAT potentially could play an important role in the design of such a tax system.

Its virtues are many. Unfortunately, those very virtues make it politically unacceptable. As a hidden tax whose burden is incorporated into the prices of goods and services, it is too tempting a source of revenue for a government unrestrained by constitutional limits on taxing and spending. Therefore, a VAT should not be part of the U.S. tax system in any form -- regardless of its apparent short-term benefits, or its attractiveness to academics.

But, Bartlett writes:
I started to change my mind in 2003 when a Republican Congress and George W. Bush rammed the Medicare drug benefit into law. At this point, I realized that it was no longer possible to restrain the growth of entitlement programs before it was too late. This led me to conclude that a massive tax increase was inevitable. ... In August of 2004, I concluded that the magnitude of the tax increase that ultimately would be necessary to stabilize our national finances was too great to be achieved through higher income taxes. Tax rates would have to rise to levels that would have seriously negative effects on the economy. Therefore, we had to seriously consider the VAT because it has a long record of being able to raise substantial revenues at relatively low deadweight cost (the lost output over and above the tax take). In other words, we now needed a "money machine."

The comments that follow his piece counter his assertion. In response, one in particular stands out. The commenter identifies himself as Bruce Bartlett, but the tone of the comment suggests that the poster is hiding behind the economist's name:
The problem for conservatives is that they don't actually want to do anything to cut spending because that's politically unpopular. So they have talked themselves into believing that if they just keep taxes down and refuse to support new ones that spending will magically fall on its own. Until they leave this dream world and are willing to not only support really big spending cuts but work hard to get them enacted, I don't intend to pay much attention to them when they tell me how terrible the VAT is. Given the actions of Republicans over the last 10 years, they have zero--ZERO, ZERO, ZERO--credibility on the budget. Their record in power was to cut taxes willy nilly, enact every Republican sponsored pork barrel project no matter how worthless, create a massive new entitlement program to buy the votes of the elderly, start new wars without paying for a penny of the cost and then pull off a Big Lie worthy of Goebbels by claiming that they are the party of fiscal responsibility. Anyone who believes this is either stupid bordering on retardation, mind-numbingly ignorant of the facts, or a partisan whore who doesn't care anything about the truth as long as his side is winning.

My emphasis. Of course, the commenter is spot on. Republicans today don't have positions except that position which opposes the president and the Democratic Party.

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