Friday, 22 August 2014

My tax base proposals

In a previous blog I listed my tax base proposals among the innovations presented in Rethinking Taxation (Chapter 4, to be precise). I refer to my proposal as the Comprehensive Acquired Income tax-base. I thought it would be a good idea to briefly explain tax bases and this proposal.

What is meant by the ‘tax-base’? This is what is made use of in calculating the tax of the members of society. Most states employ multiple different taxes which make use of different tax bases (labour income, estate taxes, corporate taxes, VAT, sales taxes, various duties etc.). I refer to the use of multiple taxes as a broad tax base, as many types of transaction are taxed.

The broad base is popular choice for states as it provides a lot of tax revenues, though often each one is applied at relatively low rates. The advantage of relatively low rates on each of the taxes is that it will not discourage economic behaviour too much. The problem is that this will not be very progressive where the most economically fortunate will never have to pay more than the highest amount of tax charged, usually lower than 50% and often more like 20%.

Multiple broad-based taxes fall on those who make a lot of economic transactions, which means the rich and poor alike. VAT, for example, is not a progressive tax base as the cost will often fall on consumers, and the poor usually spend almost all their income on the necessities of life. Some claim VAT is progressive since food is zero-rated. However, many poorer people purchase hot food, while some very wealthy buy expensive ready meals from places like M&S, Waitrose and Fortnum and Masons.

For these and other reasons, many people have suggested the application of a more comprehensive tax base. The Comprehensive Income tax base was a popular theoretical approach by which to judge the tax system up until the 1970s. This is also sometimes referred to as the Accretion tax or the Schanz-Haig-Simons tax base after some of its prominent proponents. Consumption taxation has increasingly been considered an attractive alternative since it was proposed again in earnest in the mid-20th century.

These comprehensive tax bases are considered less practical than the application of a broad base as it would be hard to reliably capture the amount of spending or income that people truly enjoy. Nevertheless, I believe that developments in Information Technology should lead us to reconsider the options for tax calculations. I propose a lifetime approach to taxation, which does not work well with the traditional comprehensive income tax base, but I believe my hybrid of the Accretion and Consumption tax bases represents a way of capturing the lifetime benefits that people get from their society. 

In my following post I will describe my Comprehensive Acquired Income approach.


Physiocrat said...

All the benefits that people get from society ultimately turn up as land rental values. That is why land has a value at all - it is the value of the benefits from society, available at that location.

The broader the tax base, the higher the administration and compliance costs.

dougbamford said...

Hi Henry, you are right that administration and compliance costs are higher the more broader or more comprehensive the tax you try to capture. Which isn't to say it isn't worth it to have a principled and effective tax system.

The economic benefits to each person do not always show up as land gains For Them, which is the more important point.

Introducing land taxes immediately drop the value of the assets of people who own land but don't affect anyone else. I agree that we should tax rents, but these occur in many different forms. After all people who earn a lot from occupying jobs with high-wage income, income from stocks and shares, and windfall gifts from relatives all represent excellent sources of taxation that do not cause much damage to the economy and do not interfere overly with people's lives. You don't have to call them rents if you want to insist on a particular definition of rent, but they should be ideally taxed at high rates.

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