Replacing the Income Tax with a Progressive Consumption Tax
New York University School of Law
Tax Notes, Vol. 102, No. 14, April 5, 2004
Shifting from an income tax to a consumption tax would offer major simplification advantages. Even if Congress created as many preferences and other special rules as under the existing income tax, the massive set of complications that relate to realization and to the taxation of financial transactions would largely be eliminated. The main (though not the only possible) reason for opposing such a shift is the concern that it would require reducing progressivity. This article argues, however, that the capacity of a consumption tax to achieve progressivity comparable to that of an income tax is widely underestimated.
In addition, this report discusses the choice between use of the origin basis and the destination basis in taxing cross-border transactions. A consumption tax can use either method, but an income tax is practically compelled to use the origin basis. Use of the destination basis would eliminate transfer pricing issues, although in their place it would create various problems that an origin-basis tax avoids, such as the need for border adjustments (e.g., tax rebates for exports). Contrary to popular perceptions, however, use of the destination basis would not constitute an export subsidy, and thus ought not to be banned under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.
JEL Classification: H24, H25
Date posted: April 2, 2004