by:  Ralph []

How could the government find out anything about anyone? Right now they have about half a picture. They know where you work, what you earn. They know what you've saved and invested. But on the opposite end, the out-go of the income, save for what you spend on your mortgage interest and give to a few charities, they know nothing. They know your income. They don't know where it all goes.

A national sales tax would cure that. Pretend that tomorrow the income tax was abolished, with a NST substituted in its place. Within two years the government would know where you spent every cent and what you bought. Impossible? Think again.

The NST, just like the income tax would be "over-withheld." Merchants would charge what the government demanded, but there would be deductions available to the taxpayer at year end, including a standard deduction for self and dependents. Some goods might be exempt, but not on purchase. You'd need to petition for a refund. Americans are addicted to forced savings under the income tax. This would assure the continuance of that concept. There would be no requirement to file the annual petition for a refund. It would be purely voluntary. But given the sums involved, it would be most beneficial to file it. Virtually everyone would - save for criminals and terrorists. The refund petitions would keep the tax preparation people in business. There would still need be a bevy of bureaucrats to administer the system.

There could be no Constitutional complaints with such a system. It's an excise, though universal. One might try to debate that in the universality it exceeded the intent of the framers, but the judges of that debate all hold a conclusion that the Constitution is a "growing" document. It simply "grew" to everything.

Once filed, there would be an onus on the taxpayer to sustain his refund petition. He'd have to be able to prove that he'd spent what he claimed. If you think the income tax forces you to keep receipts, think about proving where you spent every cent of what you spent in the course of a year. "Where does it all go?" would no longer be a rhetorical question. You'd have to know the answer!

If you pay cash, you'd have to have a huge stack of individual receipts. But if you pay by check or plastic you'd have an automatic summary, a total amount spent, via the computer statements provided. No need to worry if you lost them. You could simply call the bank and request another copy (for a $50 fee, no doubt) from their database. There could be no chance that you'd permanently lose the info, nor could anyone think that you'd created phoney receipts. In short order there would be almost no cash transactions. Merchants would begin to refuse to accept it. There would be an assumption that anyone dealing in cash must be a criminal or terrorist, a person who doesn't care about receipts.

The merchants' computer records, as well as the records in the banks, would no longer be private records in any sense. These would all be "tax records." They'd be open to governmental access. Most businesses would simply network the data to the government, allowing automatic, continuous access. This would require the least effort on their part. Saves paperwork. Saves labor. Their databases would actually be governmental databases. You can see why they'd dislike cash sales. The government computers would be standing right behind them, looking over their shoulders. Too many cash sales in their databases might invite an audit. And who's got the time for that?

That's the concept. The government is looking for drug dealers and terrorists. Clearly, the way to find them would be to find out who's spending cash.

In addition, the government would probably still know where most of the money came from. Odds are very slim that Social Security "contributions" would be paid via a NST. They would continue to be withheld at the source and matched by the payer of wages. It is far less visible in present form than if it were added to the NST, upping it by another +10% of the final price of goods. Income taxation wouldn't go away, not totally. Enough of the concept would remain to paint a full picture, even if part of it had to be extrapolated out of the available data, which the computers could easilly do.
So don't even think about buying in the black market. If your income is on record as well as everything you spent, there had better be an explanation for anything over a few hundred dollars difference in the sums. Want to have a garage sale? Forget it. You'd need to fill out a dozen forms. Want to privately sell anything, neighbor to neigbor, friend to friend? Forget that too. You could still sell it, but only to a company already in the system. It would treat it as a wholesale purchase and only apply the NST in the final transaction. Yes, you'd only get the wholesale price for it. Or you could fill out the dozen forms and charge your friend for the item with tax. Then you would pay the tax.

You can see that gun sales no longer need to be registered. They are automatically registered under the NST. So are all ammunition purchases. The government could even do a database search to find out who bought a box-cutter in the last 90 days. (or the last nine years). As quickly as you do a search on the internet, they'd have a list of all purchasers of any given item. But with the computer power available to them they could narrow the search, eliminating purchasers who seem to have a legitimate use for the item, for they'd also know if the box-cutters were purchased with $120 of wallpaper or a $7 model car kit. Might they err? Sure, but maybe only 5% of the time. If you happened to be in that 5%, you could explain the purchase when they came to the door and detained you, right? You have nothing to hide. Hopefully you could convince them at your door, not after 17 days of "detainment." If they found any cash in your pocket, it might take you a month to convince them. The error could go the other way just as well, for the terrorist in need of a box-cutter would mix it into other goods.

Are you alarmed by these thoughts? Don't be. This is pure fiction. It's such for a very simple reason. No government has any desire to be totalitarian. To the contrary.

There are only two types of people who wish to work for a government: those who honestly believe in performing a public service and those who seek to profit by it. The folks in the first category begin to vanish under a despotic government while those in the second category are drawn to it.
But under an ultra-totalitarian system (pardon the redundancy), where everything spent becomes a data record, how would the latter profit? How, pray tell, would a judge take a bribe? Where could he spend that wealth? How could he receive it, in his name or in his hand, without it becoming part of a database? Same applies to any lesser office under any government. How would property developers get a parcel re-zoned in any community? The decision is made by a "zoning board." Could they now be bribed? Never.

No cops would ever swipe the cash from a drug sale. Where would they spend it? They'd all have to be "honest cops." But the people who would have sought the job prior, to become "honest cops," would be so repulsed by the totalitarian system that they'd not apply. Those who sought it with hopes of gain would be just as repulsed. Who'd want to be a cop? Nobody! The system would push out both the good and the evil.
Nobody would want to be a judge, a legislator, an FBI officer or even an official of any small government. The honest folks would fear the stigma; the dishonest folks would fear their discovery. There is a natural restraint against "totalitarianism," in the ultimate sense of the term. If it were really ever "total" nobody would work for the government. And a government can only work if people work for it.

Mr. Poindexter and Mr. Ashcroft might be drooling over a system giving them the powers available under a NST database system, for it is a comprehensive knowledge which surely leads to a total power. At first glance it would seem to be just what the dictator ordered. But they display their own lack of intellect in the logic of it. They forgot to ask, "Who really gains?" Or do they hold that they are so clever that they can avoid the computers where others cannot? That's folly.

What if some "honest" lesser official under their command should discover some data bit regarding them, a congressman, a federal judge or even the president They must also all now have, "Nothing to hide," but what are the odds of that? Will they muzzle that petty official? They can't bribe him, that's certain. There's no available incentive for him to become dishonest. They really haven't thought the concept through.

If government ever should take the final step, attempting to become truly totalitarian, there'd be so few people willing to work for it that nothing would be accomplished. The term for that is "anarchy."

The NST concept puts all of us into glass houses. All of us.

In an odd way, I'm becoming pro-NST. Bring it on. I have nothing to hide - well, I do, but compared to those in politics, it's virtually nothing. You too?

Except I've one small, final thought. Suppose that they invented a way to exempt themselves. Would we ever be that trusting? It would be utterly foolish. Everything we bought or sold would relate back to us by individual number. But those who worked for government would use a universal number instead, so that nothing tracked back to them individually. Even without great wisdom, it's pretty easy to determine that universal number. So I guess it's possible. It just seems to represent an impossible leap of faith on the part of the people. In a system by which the government tried to outlaw all criminals, all criminals would just have to work for the government. Could we ever be so stupid? I wonder if we are going to find out.

Those few of us who follow such things are beginning to comprehend a small sea-change on the income tax and a drift toward the NST. Is it a fictional folly or do they have something far more sinister in mind?