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Free Content Taxing Consumption and Other Sins

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Abstract:

Federal and state governments in the United States use income and payroll taxes as their primary tools to collect revenue. Relative to the United States, governments in the rest of the world rely much more heavily on taxing consumption. Heavy American reliance on income rather than consumption taxation has not served the U.S. economy well. The inefficiency associated with taxing the return to capital means that the tax system reduces investment in the United States and distorts intertemporal consumption by Americans. While the economic logic of consumption taxation is compelling even for a closed economy, it is even more powerful for an open economy exposed to the world capital market. Consumption taxes in the form of excises can be designed to help protect the environment and control other externalities. Excise taxes can also serve the function of more closely aligning tax burdens with the benefits that taxpayers receive from certain government services. Understandable concerns arise about the distributional consequences of consumption taxation, but a system that relies heavily on consumption taxes, particularly if accompanied by an income tax, can be as progressive as any income tax the United States would realistically want to adopt.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1257/089533007780095565

Publication date: December 1, 2007

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  • The Journal of Economic Perspectives (JEP) attempts to fill a gap between the general interest press and most other academic economics journals. The journal aims to publish articles that will serve several goals: to synthesize and integrate lessons learned from active lines of economic research; to provide economic analysis of public policy issues; to encourage cross-fertilization of ideas among the fields of thinking; to offer readers an accessible source for state-of-the-art economic thinking; to suggest directions for future research; to provide insights and readings for classroom use; and to address issues relating to the economics profession.
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