Sunday, December 20, 2009

Note to NDP, Taxpayers: Two Can Play the Revenue Neutrality Game

Whether it is Ignatieff, Dion or Campbell calibrating the cost of their carbon tax proposals, or President Obama costing healthcare reform, "revenue neutrality" seems to be the new gold standard for measuring tax policy. I reject this assertion, because (1) it assumes that current levels of taxation are somehow the right ones, no matter what the policy goals at stake; and (2) it assumes what philosophers call a utilitarian ethic--focusing on a global assessment of utility while ignoring the distributive consequences of a tax. Both of these assumptions ignore too many factors for 'revenue neutrality' to be a sound standard of evaluation.

Nevertheless, if "revenue neutrality" insulates a government from the charge that it is taxing society more, then the NDP can play that game too. Simply reduce the HST by 2 or 3 points , and then increase personal and corporate income taxes a corresponding amount, so as to ensure that total revenues are unchanged. There will be howls of rage on the right, of course, since "their" money will have been taken away again and given back to those middle and lower-income people. But it would not be increasing the total tax burden on society: it will simply be reversing the thinly-veiled redistribution of wealth that Gordon Campbell has been undertaking for the last 8 years.

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