Home > Alan Viard, Bill Clinton, Greg Mankiw, VAT > VAT Watch, ctd: Bill Clinton’s Endorsement

VAT Watch, ctd: Bill Clinton’s Endorsement

I’m happy to see President Clinton endorse a VAT. However, he need not make spurious arguments when plenty of sound ones exist. Greg Mankiw quotes Alan Viard on why a VAT wouldn’t “improve our trade balance.” 

A common fallacy holds that border tax adjustments—imposing taxes on imports and rebating taxes on exports—would enhance American exports and reduce imports. The reasoning behind this mistake is simple enough. A border adjustment seems to provide a subsidy to exporters and to levy a tariff on importers. Border adjustment proponents, noting that international trade rules allow nations to border adjust consumption taxes such as European-style value added taxes, urge the adoption of a consumption tax in the United States so that we can border adjust and enhance our trade competitiveness.

Yet, such an argument ignores an essential truth about imports and exports: over the long term, exports and imports must be equal. We can think of a country like a household. Purchases are paid for from the proceeds of sales, and sales are made for the purpose of additional purchases. In the long run, purchases and sales must be equal. A nation’s trade policy works the same way. Over a nation’s history, the value of exports in current dollars must equal the value of imports in present value. Any attempt to permanently increase exports and decrease imports is futile.

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