The whole theory of the income tax is that those best able to pay it, pay it. It sounds halfway sensible until one starts to reckon with human notions of justice ("to each his own") and the disruptive implications of upsetting those notions by government edict. A nation, half of whose citizens don't pay income taxes, is in a bad position to say fewer and fewer should toil for the support of more and more.
Yet the spending and deficits rise like Roman candles. Comes now ObamaCare, to be paid for, in part, by the same "wealthy" people who already pay most of the taxes and will certainly seek legal ways to avoid paying more.
Recently, former Federal Reserve Board chairman Paul Volcker indicated where this dispute might be going. Toward a European-style value-added tax, he said -- a tax levied on an item at every stage of production. "If at the end of the day we need to raise taxes," said Volcker, "we should raise taxes."
On top of what we're paying now in income tax? That sounds like fun.
Americans sense that their eyes are bigger, politically speaking, than their stomachs. They urgently need to debate how many government programs they really want to pay for, as concentrated with how many they just plain want. It's hardly the debate the administration that just seized control of health care wants to encourage. But the sooner it begins, the better for all -- the rich, the poor, the in-between.