Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Turncoats?

Economic columnist Bruce Bartlett defends himself against criticism that he's abandoned his principles.

The essential idea of economically sound tax policy is that there is nothing bad and everything good about savings and investment. Individuals who accumulate capital benefit, of course, but so does the society in which those individuals live. Simply put, they will put their capital to good use by investing in the economic activity of those around them.

From the left side of the table, capital is the best thing to go after, because it's a big pot of visible money. Let's just take it and we'll be in fat city ever after. It's obvious nonsense, but widely appealing. I myself often think, "If Donald Trump would just give me a million dollars . . ."

The truth is, economic activity in the end is all on the consumption side, and that's where you want taxes to be. If you buy into this belief, then the question becomes how to tax. The choices generally are income taxes, which are just a particular form of sales tax, and sales taxes. Bartlett has got himself caught up in an argument whether to replace the income tax with a sales tax, or to adopt an unhappy construct called the value added tax. What's a good conservative to do?

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