A Consumed Income Tax: A Fair and Simple Plan for Tax Reform

27 Pages Posted: 31 Jul 2008

Date Written: July 28, 2008


These are slides from a presentation to the President's Advisory Panel on Tax Reform, given in Washington D.C. on May 11, 2005, updated, with additional slides, and sources at the end. The principal goal is to summarize the mechanics and analytics of a consumed or cash-flow income tax, a progressive spending tax, based on a rearrangement of the Haig Simons identity, Income = Consumption Savings, to generate Consumption = Income - Savings. A consistent spending tax simply features unlimited deductions for savings, along the lines of traditional Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs), plus the inclusion of debt as a cash-flow input (the fatal flaw of the 1990s USA Tax Plan was its failure to include debt in the tax base). Progressive rates can be maintained, even increased.

The critical point is that such a progressive postpaid consumption, cash-flow or (all equivalently) spending tax is not equivalent to a wage tax, and does not systematically exempt the yield to savings from the tax base. Instead, a consistent progressive spending tax stands between an income tax, which double taxes all savings, and a prepaid consumption, yield exempt, or (all equivalently) wage tax, which never taxes any savings. A consistent progressive spending tax taxes the yield to capital when (but only when) it is used to elevate material lifestyles, not when capital transactions (savings, investing, borrowing) are used to smooth out, in time, a taxpayer's labor market earnings. This is an attractive ideal, as argued at greater length in McCaffery 2005a.

It is also noted that such a progressive spending tax is a normatively attractive "hybrid," in that it taxes some but not all savings, and in a principled and appealing way, in contrast to the flawed practice of engrafting consumption tax elements (of either sort, pre or post paid) onto an income tax base. See McCaffery 2005b.

Suggested Citation

McCaffery, Edward J., A Consumed Income Tax: A Fair and Simple Plan for Tax Reform (July 28, 2008). USC CLEO Research Paper No. C08-12; USC Law Legal Studies Paper No. 08-16. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1183583 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1183583

Edward J. McCaffery (Contact Author)

USC Gould School of Law ( email )

699 Exposition Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90089
United States
213-740-2567 (Phone)
213-740-5502 (Fax)

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