America's widening fiscal gap

More

My latest column for the FT looks at the ever-widening long-term budget gap and what will be needed to close it.

In short, whether it intends to or not, Congress is leaning towards making the long-term deficit even bigger. It is preparing to underwrite a large and permanent expansion of the government's spending obligations while failing to provide for a corresponding expansion of the tax base. A crucial question is therefore whether, and for how long, Mr Obama will continue to be bound by his pledge to raise income taxes "by not one cent" for almost all Americans.

Mr Obama intends to squeeze the rich, but the scope for this may be more limited than US liberals would wish. Few Americans seem aware that the US income tax code, as a recent Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development study showed, is already one of the most progressive.* Even before the rise in top marginal rates promised by Mr Obama, the US income tax collects 45 per cent of its revenues from the highest-income decile. Compare that with Britain at 39 per cent, Canada at 36 per cent, France at 28 per cent, Sweden at 27 per cent and an OECD average of 32 per cent.

This difference is only partly explained by the less-equal US income distribution. The fact that the US has no broadly based national sales tax - value added taxes make Europe's overall tax codes less progressive still - only underlines the point. The US tax system raises comparatively little revenue; what little it raises already comes disproportionately, by international standards, from the rich.

I have previously argued that the US will need a VAT. Even before Mr Obama unveiled his ambitions for healthcare reform, wage subsidies to help the working poor, better education and the rest, the US middle class was seriously undertaxed. The government's promises, on present plans, will be unaffordable. If they are honoured regardless, the only question is which comes first: broadly based tax increases or fiscal collapse. Welcome home, Mr President.

You can read the whole thing here.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Clive Crook is a senior editor of The Atlantic and a columnist for Bloomberg View. He was the Washington columnist for the Financial Times, and before that worked at The Economist for more than 20 years, including 11 years as deputy editor. Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics. More

Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

'Stop Telling Women to Smile'

An artist's campaign to end sexual harassment on the streets of NYC.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Where Time Comes From

The clocks that coordinate your cellphone, GPS, and more

Video

Computer Vision Syndrome and You

Save your eyes. Take breaks.

Video

What Happens in 60 Seconds

Quantifying human activity around the world

Writers

Up
Down

More in Business

Just In