“The FairTax, at its heart, is simple enough: It would take almost every federal tax and replace them with a fat 30 percent sales tax on everything. Virtually every American would get a monthly check from the government to cover the cost of paying the tax on essentials. It’s a radical idea, but one which since its first introduction to Congress in 1999 has been a favorite of conservative Republicans. Rep. Buddy Carter (R-GA) already has 23 co-sponsors for the current iteration. Prominent party figures like Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, John McCain, Rick Perry, and Herman Cain have all championed the idea over the years.
Not surprisingly, liberal groups who judge the proposal regressive are against it. But so are many enthusiastic conservative tax-cutters, like the Wall Street Journal editorial board and Grover Norquist. Here’s what National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru had to say about it:
“Any House Republican who backs this bill can accurately be accused of voting for … raising the price of everything by a huge amount at a time when inflation is already high; shifting more of the tax burden to the middle class; instituting a large new wealth tax on senior citizens; increasing federal spending by a massive amount; increasing the deficit; and creating large black markets.””
“he FairTax gets rid of the personal and corporate income taxes, and the estate tax, which are the three most progressive taxes in the federal code. For most poor people, the personal income tax already gives them money through provisions like the earned income tax credit or the child tax credit. Getting rid of it means all those benefits go away.
At the top end, the rich go from paying a top rate of 40.8 percent on their wages, as well as 23.8 percent on their income from investments, to just paying the 30 percent tax on everything they buy. But wealthy people save more of their income than non-wealthy people do, and everything they save would be tax-free. By one measure, rich people in the 2010s saved 8.5 percent of their income, while the bottom 90 percent had a negative savings rate, spending 2.8 percent more than they earned.
I know of no credible estimates of the distributional impact of the FairTax, if it were to replace income and payroll taxes, but when the Bush administration appointed a panel to study tax reform proposals, it concluded that using the tax to replace the income tax alone would sharply raise taxes on the middle class.”
“Assuming a reasonable amount of tax evasion (20 percent) — and the question of evasion is important, as you’ll see — he found that the FairTax would increase the deficit by about $10.6 trillion over 10 years. In order to avoid increasing the deficit 10 years later, the FairTax would have to be set at 64.4 percent.”
“I wouldn’t be so quick to reject sales taxes more broadly. There’s a reason every rich country except the US has a value-added tax: It’s a very efficient, easy-to-administer way to raise lots of money for progressive social programs like universal health care, child allowances, long-term care, and more.
Gale, the FairTax critic, is actually a vocal advocate for adopting a VAT in the US. I like his idea of pairing a 10 percent VAT with a small universal basic income to make sure low-income people come out ahead. He estimates the bottom 20 percent of earners would see their incomes rise by nearly 17 percent as a result, while households with income above $90,000 or so would pay more. If you use some of the revenue to pay for the now-expired expanded child tax credit, the net effect would likely be a substantial reduction in poverty.
You could also, as Columbia professor Michael Graetz and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) have proposed, use the VAT to exempt all but the wealthiest individuals from the income tax, by creating standard deductions of $50,000 or $100,000 for couples. This isn’t as progressive as using it for a UBI, but it would vastly simplify income tax collection and enable the large majority of Americans to not worry about filing taxes ever.”