Digital Consumption Tax (D-Ct)

190 Pages Posted: 5 Sep 2006

See all articles by Richard Thompson Ainsworth

Richard Thompson Ainsworth

NYU - Graduate Tax Program; Boston University - School of Law

Date Written: September 5, 2006


Modern technology is dramatically changing the way consumption taxes are collected, but it is also changing the way policymakers assess the operation and impact of these taxes. Whether the design is a standard credit-invoice value added tax (VAT) of European design, or a retail sales tax (RST) of American design, or the credit subtraction VAT without invoices type of consumption tax (CT) of Japanese design, technology is having a profound impact.

Government certified transaction software is in place in the United States. The Streamlined Sales Tax offers taxpayers in 18 states the option of having their retail sales tax determined in a manner that not only assures accuracy, but which carries with it audit immunity. The software is provided at no cost to the taxpayer in instances where the taxpayer volunteers to collect the tax on out-of-state sales. Similar software certification regimes are under consideration in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) that would be global in scope and handle the whole range of VAT transaction for a multinational enterprise. Discussions have commenced in various forums with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the United States Aid for International Development (USAID) on applications of this technology in developing country contexts.

Certification of transaction tax determinations and audit immunity are attributes of immense interest to multinational enterprises that are increasingly under pressure from securities and corporate governance regulations to assure accurate financial statements and operational cash flow figures. This pressure is global in scope, as indicated by: Sarbanes-Oxley Act in the U.S.; the Loi de Securite Financiere in France; the Companies Act of 2004 in the U.K.; the Corporate Law Economic Reform Program (part 9) (CLERP 9) in Australia; the Kouninkaikeishihou no ichibu wo kaisei suru houritsu 2004-4-1 (An Act to Amend Part of the Certified Public Accounting Law) in Japan; and the recent modifications to the E.U.'s Eighth Corporate Directive (84/253/EEC).

But technology offers more than a linear application of digital processes to formerly paper based and manual systems. When certified transaction tax technology is merged with "smart" card technology in IDs that possess digitized biometric identity information an opportunity opens for hyper transformation of the consumption tax. It is entirely within the grasp of policymakers today to design a broad-based, single rate consumption tax that is truly and independently progressive. In many respects, this is the Holy Grail of consumption tax theory. Technology offers it to us today.

This text begins and ends with a tax reform. It starts with a proposal to the President's (George W. Bush's) Advisory Panel on Federal Tax Reform, and ends with a proposal for the consideration of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's Tax Commission. Neither tax reform commission appears at the moment to be considering technological solutions, although both are critically interested in consumption taxes. In the U.S. case both of the identified structural barriers to a federal level VAT (federal-state coordination and regressivity) can be answered technologically. In the Japanese case a wholesale transformation of the CT is under consideration; one that would move the Japanese CT to an invoice system with multiple rates and a standard rate of 10 percent or higher. The structural departure that this proposal makes from the traditional Japanese CT need not be taken if technological solutions are applied, although the "double digit" rate increase seems to be a given for revenue reasons.

Keywords: Retail Sales Tax, Value Added Tax, VAT, Consumption Tax, President's Advisory Panel on Tax Reform, Japanese Tax Commission, Biometrics, Certified Tax Software, Streamlined Sales Tax, Digital Sales Directive, Sarbanes-Oxley, Developing Countries, Tax Reform, Real ID Act

JEL Classification: H20, K00, K34, O31

Suggested Citation

Ainsworth, Richard Thompson, Digital Consumption Tax (D-Ct) (September 5, 2006). Boston Univ. School of Law Working Paper No. 06-26, Available at SSRN: or

Richard Thompson Ainsworth (Contact Author)

NYU - Graduate Tax Program ( email )

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Boston University - School of Law ( email )

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