The Obama Democrats see a society in which ordinary people cannot fend for themselves, where they need to have their incomes supplemented, their health care insurance regulated and guaranteed, their relationships with their employers governed by union leaders. Highly educated mandarins can make better decisions for them than they can make themselves. That is the culture of dependence.Robert Samuelson takes up the same theme in his column as he looks at the possibility of instituting a VAT.
The tea partiers see things differently. They're not looking for lower taxes -- half of tea party supporters, a New York Times survey found, think their taxes are fair. Nor are they financially secure -- half say someone in their household may lose their job in the next year. Two-thirds say the recession has caused some hardship in their lives.
But they recognize, correctly, that the Obama Democrats are trying to permanently enlarge government and increase citizens' dependence on it. And, invoking the language of the Founding Fathers, they believe that this will destroy the culture of independence which has enabled Americans over the past two centuries to make this the most productive and prosperous -- and the most charitably generous -- nation in the world.
A VAT is no panacea; deficit reduction can't be painless. We'll need both spending cuts and tax increases. A VAT might be the least bad tax, though my preference is for energy taxes. But what's wrong with the simplistic VAT advocacy is that it deemphasizes spending cuts. The consequences would be unnecessarily high taxes that would weaken the economy and discriminate against the young. It would become harder for families to raise children. VAT enthusiasts need to answer two questions: What government spending would you cut? And how high would your VAT rates go?It would very nice to have this debate before we start discussing a VAT. If all we want is bigger government and more spending, then we need to talk about how to pay for it. But before that, let's decide if that is really what Americans want.