Two studies show the estimated cost of our current tax system. University of Michigan professor Joel Slemrod, in his June 2004 testimony to the House Ways and Means Oversight subcommittee estimated that Americans spend at least $135 billion annually. Meanwhile, The Laffer Center, which promotes supply-side economics in partnership with the non-profit Texas Public Policy Foundation, published a study showing the cost to be $431 billion a year. We’re all eager to find a way to get back even a few minutes in our day and a few extra dollars in our wallet. Imagine if all that money and the time it takes to prepare our taxes annually were returned to us.
And underpayment of income tax is rife. According to a 2009 Treasury Department report, the tax gap was $290 billion. In our system, cheaters too often win.
Given this, and setting aside, for the time being, how much should be collected in taxes and the thorny questions surrounding state and local taxation, why not replace the income tax with a national sales tax? It is more resistant to cheating, requires less paperwork, and with the following exemptions, is kinder to the poor than those proposed by our presidential candidates. Under this proposed version, basic food, clothing, shelter, and cars under $3,000, among other commodities, would be exempt from the tax.
If voters want additional taxation of high-income earners, institute a ground tax, which would require landowners to pay a federal surcharge on the land portion of their property tax. That’s minimally game-able, doesn’t require recordkeeping, and doesn’t penalize land owners for improving their property.
This national sales-tax rate would be reduced by including Internet sales as taxable and by nationally legalizing, regulating and then taxing prostitution, and by heavily taxing alcohol and tobacco, since consumption of both products impose tremendous burdens on the health care system. Because of those, the revenue-neutral rate could be around 10 percent.
Here are some advantages of a sales tax, which essentially taxes consumption, over an income tax:
— Consuming less means we’re more likely to base our career choice on societal benefit than on income potential.
— Taxing consumption would lead to a decreased national carbon footprint.
— Spending would likely be reallocated from products to services, such as personal assistants and tutors. While most of those jobs would be part-time positions, two or three of them could comprise a reasonable living and a career that many if not most people would consider more rewarding than manufacturing or distributing physical commodities.