This is a written version of testimony given to the Joint Economic Committee in November, 2003, subsequently published in Tax Notes. Meaningful simplification is possible, but depends on fundamental tax reform. Fundamental tax reform must start with the tax base, logically distinct from tax rates. Under progressive marginal rates, the two standard forms of consumption tax, prepaid, yield-exempt or (all equivalently) wage, and postpaid, cash-flow or (all equivalently) spending, are not equivalent. Actual tax policy today is drifting towards a flat wage tax, which never includes the yield to capital in the base. A more liberal answer is a progressive spending tax, which does tax the yield to capital, under just the right conditions: when but only when this yield facilitates higher material lifestyles. Hence such a tax stands between an income tax, which double taxes all savings, and a wage tax, which taxes none. A consistent progressive spending tax also generates great simplification, because all further taxes on capital, such as the corporate income or gift and estate taxes, can be reduced or repealed, and all rules about capital gains, losses, realization, recognition and so on become moot. Even further simplification can obtain by substituting another form of spending tax, such as a VAT or a national retail sales tax, plus a rebate for the two lowest brackets of the progressive spending tax, leaving a supplemental spending tax only for the wealthy, such as households spending over $100,000 per year.
Economics | Law and Economics | Tax Law
Date of this Version
Edward J. McCaffery, "Ten Facts About Fundamental Tax Reform" (July 2008). University of Southern California Law and Economics Working Paper Series. Working Paper 82.