Monday, January 30, 2017

A Three-Point Tax Reform

Consider the following tax reform:

1. Impose a retail sales tax on consumer goods and services, both domestic and imported.
2. Use some of the proceeds from the tax to repeal the corporate income tax.
3. Use the rest of the proceeds from the tax to significantly cut the payroll tax.

Before moving on, ask yourself: Do you like this plan?

As I understand it, this plan is, in effect, what the Republicans in Congress are proposing.

Note the words "in effect."  There are a few differences, which are more important administratively than in their economic effect. One is that the consumption tax is not collected at the retail level but rather along the chain of production (much like a value-added tax). Once this is done, you need border adjustments to ensure the tax is really like a retail sales tax: imports must be taxed, and exports have to get a rebate. In addition, the payroll tax is not cut but rather firms get a deduction for labor payments, but that deduction is much the same as a payroll tax cut.

Personally, I like the three-point plan listed above, and I therefore like the reform proposal being discussed in Congress. A lot of confusion about things like border adjustments might disappear if commentators realized that what is being discussed is largely equivalent to this three-point plan.

Addendum: I don't think it is quite right to say, as Paul Krugman does, that this plan is a shift from taxing profits to taxing consumers. That ignores part 3 of the three-point plan.  It is more accurate to say it is a shift from taxing profits to taxing consumed profits. Moreover, I think the reform would promote economic growth and rising living standards. A large literature suggests that taxing consumption is preferred to taxing income, especially capital income. So a shift from a profits tax to a consumed profits tax is a step in the right direction.