That's where the value-added tax comes in. For the politician, it has the virtue of expediency: People are used to sales taxes, and this one produces a river of revenue. Every 1 percent of VAT would yield up to $1 trillion a decade (depending on what you exclude -- if you exempt food, for example, the yield would be more like $900 billion).
It's the ultimate cash cow. Obama will need it. By introducing universal health care, he has pulled off the largest expansion of the welfare state in four decades. And the most expensive. Which is why all of the European Union has the VAT. Huge VATs. Germany: 19 percent. France and Italy: 20 percent. Most of Scandinavia: 25 percent.
American liberals have long complained that ours is the only advanced industrial country without universal health care. Well, now we shall have it. And as we approach European levels of entitlements, we will need European levels of taxation.
Obama set out to be a consequential president, on the order of Ronald Reagan. With the VAT, Obama's triumph will be complete. He will have succeeded in reversing Reaganism. Liberals have long complained that Reagan's strategy was to starve the (governmental) beast in order to shrink it: First, cut taxes -- then ultimately you have to reduce government spending.
Obama's strategy is exactly the opposite: Expand the beast, and then feed it. Spend first -- which then forces taxation. Now that, with the institution of universal health care, we are becoming the full entitlement state, the beast will have to be fed.
And the VAT is the only trough in creation large enough.
As a substitute for the income tax, the VAT would be a splendid idea. Taxing consumption makes infinitely more sense than taxing work. But to feed the liberal social-democratic project, the VAT must be added on top of the income tax.
Ultimately, even that won't be enough. As the population ages and health care becomes increasingly expensive, the only way to avoid fiscal ruin (as Britain, for example, has discovered) is health care rationing.
It will take a while to break the American populace to that idea. In the meantime, get ready for the VAT. Or start fighting it.
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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