The Inaction Tax

Guessing how the new “tax penalty” power Chief Justice John Roberts handed to Big Government enthusiasts will expand is a cottage industry, producing the sort of satire that makes one queasy, because it might just be tomorrow’s conventional wisdom.  Congress now has a limitless power to compel behavior deemed in the public interest, through punitive taxation.

The only real boundary is the threat of massive popular resistance to legislative over-reach… but that’s not a sufficiently formidable boundary to political ambition, especially since the ruling class has become very good at acclimating the public to new infringements upon personal liberty, while assuring them future generations have endless resources to cover today’s deficit-fueled programs.  What will tomorrow’s ruling class force us to do?

Perhaps it’s time to “go big,” especially since really huge unconstitutional programs apparently have a better chance of surviving Supreme Court scrutiny, and think about a punitive tax on inactivity.

We can start with literal physical inactivity, because that will be an inevitable consequence of the crusade for public health.  The government manages our health care now, and it has a very direct interest in keeping costs down.  Government at several levels has displayed a keen interest in fighting obesity, which is seen as a highly preventable contributor to excessive health care costs.

Using taxes and regulations to control our diet will not be sufficient, because a good deal of the “obesity epidemic” is a result of sedentary lifestyles.  Exercise is a vital component of maintaining good health.  The legal mechanism for controlling the populace through tax penalties, and forcing them to engage in politically-approved forms of private commerce, has now been established.  How long will it be before a punitive tax is imposed for the failure to purchase fitness club memberships, and use them regularly?

This inaction tax penalty will be easy to portray as a job-creating economic winner, as fitness clubs would have to expand dramatically to handle the influx of government-mandated memberships.  It would be a terrific opportunity for both “investment” and regulation by Big Government, as deficit-fueled, centrally planned capital infusions into the fitness industry would be portrayed as essential for swiftly constructing and expanding gymnasiums, and ensuring they provided all of the government-mandated activities deemed essential for weight loss and cardiovascular health.

All of this would be a snap to manage, compared to the imposition of ObamaCare, with its gigantic army of new IRS agents.  Fitness clubs already have the electronic infrastructure for keeping track of members, and how often they use the facilities.

Once we have government-mandated fitness routines up and running, we can work on using tax penalties to wipe out economic inactivity.  How about penalties for businesses who don’t hire as many people as the government thinks they should?  That will be an irresistible temptation for class warriors whose world-view is already based on the image of corporate executives as heartless buccaneers who squeeze too much profit out of their operations.

President Obama’s programs to encourage job growth have been colossal failures, in no small measure because temporary incentives to spur hiring, such as one-time tax rebates, don’t significantly enhance demand for risky, long-term employment relationships.  A huge punitive tax on businesses who don’t hire as many people as Big Government thinks they should would be perfectly in line with “liberal” economic theory.  Either spend $30,000 apiece on full-time “good jobs” with government-approved “good benefits,” or pay $40,000 in tax penalties, you greedy corporate fat cats!

We might also consider a tax penalty on consumers who don’t consume enough.  One of Obama’s core economic beliefs is that showering the Little People with “free money” will cause them to rush out and engage in job-creating commerce, but reality has been beating that little myth into the dust for the past several years.  A lot of that seed money is used to pay off existing debt, as consumers remain nervous about making big purchases in the face of Obama’s grinding unemployment.  Well, a nice tax penalty for the failure to spend enough money should get their attention!

This new tax can even be targeted to compel the purchase of items our ruling class feels are socially beneficial.  What better way to jump-start the moribund housing market than a tax penalty on eligible borrowers who don’t take out a mortgage and buy a house?  It could easily be means-tested to hit people with good credit ratings and substantial income levels.

The future of command economics in America looks bright, because the central planners finally have the ultimate tool: a method of compelling demand.  They’ve always been keen to tinker with supply, and redistribute wealth, but now they can directly control how that wealth is used.  It’s time to think about ways we can correct the physical and financial indolence endemic to welfare states, by taxing inaction out of existence.