National Sales Tax/VAT

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Drudge is claiming that Bush is going to introduce a new campaign issue. [Thanks to Imperfect but Forgiven for the link.] If Drudge is right, Bush wants to get rid of the IRS and replace it with a national sales tax or a value-added tax on specific kinds of items. This is an extremely bad idea, both politically and in terms of just governing.

This sort of policy is unjust largely because it requires poor people like us who don't pay taxes to pay taxes. The only taxes we currently pay are phone, utility, medicare, social security, and state sales tax and other taxes added at purchase (e.g. gas tax). Those are the taxes that people, regardless of their income, pay. A good tax relief plan should minimize increases in these taxes or even decrease them. The tax policy as it is allows people under a certain income to be exempt from any income tax. What Bush is proposing may be good for the majority of middle-class people, and it may allow collecting on money made illegally, because it's collected when spent and not when earned, but the downside is really not worth it.

One of the Democrats' claims about the tax cuts under Bush has been that it caused property taxes to go up. The difference there is that local authorities raised property taxes rather than doing something else that won't as much affect people in lower income brackets who happen to own a house. Bush didn't. Here he'd be doing something directly that would increase taxes on the poor. I thought only people like Dick Gephardt wanted to do things like that.

Is Bush really going to propose such a thing without a way to exempt poor people somehow? But how will he exempt poor people? It could only be by paying them upfront beforehand or refunding them afterward, both bad ideas. You can't anticipate what you spend, so how can the government pre-pay you? You have less to spend if you can only get it refunded later, so that would slow recovery among the lowest brackets. I really hope he doesn't make this a campaign issue, because I'd have a hard time voting for him. I've been very supportive of him. I've defended his claims about Islam that have gotten him in trouble with evangelicals. I've defended his compassionate conservatism that's gotten him in trouble with small-government conservatives. I've defended his overall actions with respect to Iraq, even if some specific decisions are questionable. I've even defended his plan for immigration reform as stemming from genuinely Christian values. This sort of tax plan I won't defend.

It wouldn't get me to vote for Kerry. Nothing will, at this point. Still, Bush may lose a lot of votes, including mine, if he intends to do something this bad. I hope Drudge is just being Drudge. I don't think I'd be better taxwise with Kerry, but I'm not sure I could in good conscience vote for either one if both want to increase my taxes even when I'm in the lowest bracket. It's possible that the badness of Kerry would still get Bush my vote, but it would make what's so far been an obvious choice a much harder decision.

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If you read more about it people are not taxed up to the poverty level [fairtax.org]

It is the most fair system yet.

I looked at that site, and I found no worthwhile information. There was nothing on any concrete proposal.

It will still increase our taxes. We pay no taxes with the current system, but we're above the poverty level. It basically removes the child tax credit and additional child tax credit. I don't know how that's going to seem good to Bush's consituency. It doesn't seem good to me.

Anybody who has money to spend could do his fair share. The alternative to poor people giving some percentage of their income is that they unfairly expect other people to provide them with all the things that taxes fund. Apparently you don't see anything wrong with some people paying 50% of their income in various taxes while other people pay 0% of theirs. (Because of the Earned Income Credit, many people actually receive MORE money back than they paid in.)

Did I say I prefer the current system to any other possible system? I just opposed moving to a VAT system rather than a flat tax or a system more like the current one but better.

I've talked about the tax gift policy the Democrats inserted into the Bush tax cuts here. It's not something I would have voted for, but I can see a motivation for that I won't deride. Fairness isn't an absolute value that trumps everything else. You may think the government has no responsibility to be just in ways other than maintaining order and dealing with criminals and opponents of the country. Justice is broader than that because it includes social justice, which sometimes requires not being fair. Different people have different ways of pursuing social justice, but anyone unwilling to see to social justice out of some sense of an absolute right to fairness is just cold. I'm glad libertarians of that mold are kept out of power.

Even if we were going to make decisions only on fairness, we'd have to deal with different conceptions of fairness. Just as Johnson saw affirmative action as moving those starting further behind up to an equal starting spot and others see it as an unfair boost to some who haven't merited it, so too will people disagree about the tax "credits" that are really gifts. Some see it as unfairly distributing money other people paid to the government to give it to those who didn't pay anything, while others see it as bringing those at the lower end up to a point where their ability to participate and live life can be boosted to the bare minimum level.

The main problem with your argument is that for some people even 1% of their income is a higher percentage of the income they need for daily living than 99% would be for Bill Gates. I don't really want anyone paying more than 35% of their income to the government, so your argument is a straw man anyway, but setting a lower limit to the amount of income someone must earn to pay taxes can easily be seen as both just and fair. If there's a maximum percentage anyone can pay (say 35%) and then a percentage of your non-survival income that everyone pays, then the total percentage each person pays will be on a scale much like the current one.

I like the flat tax idea, as long as it's an income tax or has an income-based exemption for lower income (at something more like at least twice the poverty level, not at the poverty level as Hastert's plan seems to have it). But it has the disadvantage of being unfair when it comes to calculating the percentage of non-survival income that you pay. So it's false advertizing to call this a fair tax. It's fair according to one comparison, but I don't think it's the most morally relevant comparison to calculate fairness.

Personally, I see a flat tax as the only equitable tax, with NO exemptions for any reason. Yes, I would have to pay more, but I find it unjust that the ones who use the government programs most contribute the least/nothing to them. There is a difference between biblical charity, and gunpoint charity, which is what taxation and wealth redistribution is.

Well, one problem with the economic libertarian model of absolute equal treatment like what you're suggesting, at least if you're trying to be biblical, is that God set up laws for Israel that did force redistribution of sorts. The gleaning laws forced (in the sense of having laws requiring it) landowners to leave certain amounts of unpicked or ungathered food for the poor to pick up. This required some amount of initiative and work, which is why welfare reform requiring initiative and work is a good thing, but it also justifies the existence of such programs to begin with, as long as you have such requirements. Conservatives read the Bible selectively when they ignore such things. Some liberal social policy doesn't have the right safeguards, but its motivation is more biblical than conservatives' policies. It's just itself also selectively biblical in not requiring work and initiative among those able to work. Kinsman-redeemer laws would cover those unable to work. If we really wanted to apply a biblical framework, we'd have the government requiring the closest relatives who can to take care of families members who can't take care of themselves. That's not one place I want to advocate doing it in the biblical way, because I think some of that had to do with cultural notions of family honor that we don't have anymore and don't really need, but the result is an expansion to a wider group of social concern, which is clearly present throughout the Bible but especially in the prophets. This kind of social justice might require a community to care for its own who are unable to care for themselves. I see no reason why taxes are an unjust way to do that, though the impersonableness of it is a bad effect.

My problem is that I see more of Marx than Jesus in our social programs. And perhaps I should have been clear that I have no problem paying taxes, it is the wealth redistribution that I have problems with. And to use your example from Ruth (kinsman redeemer), can you show me where Ruth & Naomi had any income to begin with? So the only actual example of your example would not be affected by my flat tax, since there was no income, and a non-government entity (namely, Boaz) is what rescued her, not the government taking money at gunpoint from the other farmers to give to her and Naomi. The command from God in Lev 19:9-10, is a personal command to charity, not a government edict to redistribute wealth, as it is our personal responsibility to assist those less fortunate then us, and the government should be less involved, not more. I fear sometimes it is more the socialist wing of the Church who �read the Bible selectively when they ignore such things.�
The history of government being involved in acts of charity is rife with problems, at best, and criminal, at worst. The social programs tend to breed dependence, instead of teaching self reliance. And the involved bureaucracy that goes with it only drains more from those who are working to pay the increased taxes. But our nation has bred a generation that is either dependant on government for their job, their income, or both.
I am merely arguing theory, as we are saddled with social programs for as long as we have governments, and I doubt the IRS or our tax code is going anywhere anytime soon, but I still feel that I am a better judge of charity for the monies that I work for.

Ruth and Naomi aren't the prime example of a kinsman-redeemer situation. In fact, that's the only example of that kind of kinsman-redeemer in the whole Bible. I think I was primarily referring to the ones in the Torah.

The main problem I have with saying it's merely a command to an individual is that this is the Mosaic Law. It's not just a command from God to the individual. The only government there is in this case is a theocracy, so if God commands something then it is a government law. It's not as if there was this independent government that God was telling to leave people alone to be moral on their own.

I agree that government isn't effective at social justice, which is why I prefer faith-based charities to anything else out there. They have a success record. Still, some of the programs do some good, particularly the ones with requirements and restrictions, e.g. WIC with its strict allowances for certain kinds of nutritional food and proof of income.

I don't think you can remove these things with one fell swoop. That would be wholly unjust, because it isn't just the people receiving things from these programs who are dependent on them. It's the people who would otherwise have to help others on their own who are dependent on these programs to manage their charity money. Without the current system, people won't give their money to charity (the recent example of Ben Affleck and Bill Clinton complaining about their tax breaks from Bush but not giving their check back shows this). Without the current system, we don't have structures in place in society to deal with people who need help. We have some, but not enough to deal with all the people who have become dependent on welfare and other programs who don't know how or can't get off the dependency as it is. Just pulling the plug would do it for some but probably not most.

The main problem I have with saying it's merely a command to an individual is that this is the Mosaic Law. It's not just a command from God to the individual. The only government there is in this case is a theocracy, so if God commands something then it is a government law. It's not as if there was this independent government that God was telling to leave people alone to be moral on their own.

I understand, but the context of Lev 19 deals primarily with individual acts, like honoring your parents, and Ye shall keep my statutes. Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind: thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed: neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woollen come upon thee. Lev 19:19 Takes a stretch to apply that to a non-human, impersonal entity, like a government, rather than individually to those who make up that entity, that is all I am saying. When looked at from that perspective, it seems more in context, and less supportive of a nanny-state mindset.

I enjoy your work, and love reading your blog, and agree that this is not something that could be changed in one act, nor do I see it being changed for the better due to the number of votes that social programs �buy� the candidates, but our society has lost something in the process. We no longer feel the need to roll up our sleeves and do something, as the government is doing it for us. So it becomes self defeating.

Two points, I think, still undermine what you're saying. First is what I said before, that the whole Torah system doesn't compare well to a situation where the people of God are not a political entity but a merely religious entity, when the Torah is dealing with a people who are both. So individual religious acts are part of the civic government. You can't separate the two.

Second, we in the contemporary West emphasize individuality far more than the Bible would allow. I don't want to rewrite what I've argued, so see the second paragraph under Reparations here and the second paragraph of this post for the background behind why I think I do have obligations to those in the group I'm part of, i.e. Americans. If laws are meant to enforce our obligations and to ensure justice, as Romans 13 says (though the focus there is punishment, but the prophets show that biblical justice has to include more than that), then I see no moral reason to oppose the government enforcing this kind of obligation if it believes that to be the best way to ensure justice. People may argue for a better way, but it's not as if it's illegitimate to do it this way.

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