We need a progressive consumption tax

Reuters

Shoppers look over items on sale at a Macy's store in New York, November 23, 2012.

Article Highlights

  • In the long run, we should ease the tax burden on saving & investment by moving toward some form of consumption taxation.

    Tweet This

  • The best approach would completely replace the income tax with a progressive consumption tax.

    Tweet This

  • Embracing progressive consumption taxation offers a way to promote both tax fairness and economic growth.

    Tweet This

Editor's note: This article originally appeared in The New York Times' Room for Debate series in response to the question: If Washington is serious about tackling the budget deficit and growing the US economy, how would our tax system need to change?

In the short run, reform efforts are likely to focus on improving the income tax. We should curb ill-designed tax breaks, like those for expensive homes and Cadillac health insurance plans, and reform business taxes.

In the long run, we should ease the tax burden on saving and investment by moving toward some form of consumption taxation. But complete replacement of the income tax with a sales tax or value-added tax is not the way to go - that would unacceptably shift the tax burden to those who are worse off.

A somewhat better approach would replace part, but not all, of the income tax with a value-added tax. Many countries have done this and we may eventually follow suit, but it's not an ideal approach. Even with a progressive income tax still in place, the value-added tax's regressivity is problematic. And, giving the government another revenue source may spur spending.

The best approach would completely replace the income tax with a progressive consumption tax. We can do this by adopting a personal expenditure tax, which requires taxpayers to file returns on what they compute their consumer spending by subtracting saving from income. Spending above an exemption amount is taxed at graduated rates, with higher brackets for those with higher spending. Or, we can adopt a Bradford X tax, which splits consumption into two pieces, wages and business cash flow, and taxes them separately. Workers are taxed on wages at graduated rates, above an exemption amount, and businesses are taxed on cash flow at a flat rate, equal to the highest wage tax rate. Under either system, tax credits can be paid in cash to poorer households.

Thinking outside the box and embracing progressive consumption taxation offers a way to promote both tax fairness and economic growth.

Alan D. Viard, a former senior economist at the Federal Reserve of Dallas, is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. 

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author

 

Alan D.
Viard
  • Alan D. Viard is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), where he studies federal tax and budget policy.

    Prior to joining AEI, Viard was a senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas and an assistant professor of economics at Ohio State University. He has also been a visiting scholar at the US Department of the Treasury's Office of Tax Analysis, a senior economist at the White House's Council of Economic Advisers, and a staff economist at the Joint Committee on Taxation of the US Congress. While at AEI, Viard has also taught public finance at Georgetown University’s Public Policy Institute. Earlier in his career, Viard spent time in Japan as a visiting scholar at Osaka University’s Institute of Social and Economic Research.

    A prolific writer, Viard is a frequent contributor to AEI’s “On the Margin” column in Tax Notes and was nominated for Tax Notes’s 2009 Tax Person of the Year. He has also testified before Congress, and his work has been featured in a wide range of publications, including Room for Debate in The New York Times, TheAtlantic.com, Bloomberg, NPR’s Planet Money, and The Hill. Viard is the coauthor of “Progressive Consumption Taxation: The X Tax Revisited” (2012) and “The Real Tax Burden: Beyond Dollars and Cents” (2011), and the editor of “Tax Policy Lessons from the 2000s” (2009).

    Viard received his Ph.D. in economics from Harvard University and a B.A. in economics from Yale University. He also completed the first year of the J.D. program at the University of Chicago Law School, where he qualified for law review and was awarded the Joseph Henry Beale prize for legal research and writing.
  • Phone: 202-419-5202
    Email: aviard@aei.org
  • Assistant Info

    Name: Regan Kuchan
    Phone: 202-862-5903
    Email: regan.kuchan@aei.org

What's new on AEI

image The Census Bureau and Obamacare: Dumb decision? Yes. Conspiracy? No.
image A 'three-state solution' for Middle East peace
image Give the CBO long-range tools
image The coming collapse of India's communists
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 14
    MON
  • 15
    TUE
  • 16
    WED
  • 17
    THU
  • 18
    FRI
Wednesday, April 16, 2014 | 10:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
Calling treason by its name: A conversation with Liam Fox

Join us at AEI as the Right Honorable Liam Fox sits down with Marc Thiessen to discuss and debate whether America’s intelligence agencies have infringed on the personal privacy of US citizens.

Thursday, April 17, 2014 | 4:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
The curmudgeon's guide to getting ahead

How can young people succeed in workplaces dominated by curmudgeons who are judging their every move? At this AEI book event, bestselling author and social scientist Charles Murray will offer indispensable advice for navigating the workplace, getting ahead, and living a fulfilling life.

Event Registration is Closed
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled today.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.