Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2003

Abstract

Dissatisfaction with the existing income tax has increased in recent years. Practical problems with the income tax base create numerous loopholes, increasingly exploited by well-advised taxpayers. For the most part, these gaps are attributable to the income tax's "realization" requirement, under which taxpayers report gains and losses as "realized" through market transactions. A consumption tax appeals as a response to these significant current loopholes since "realization" loses its significance under a consumption-based tax. The consumption tax's appeal has been further enhanced by the recent and growing recognition of the narrow difference between income and consumption taxes, assuming away practical problems. Contrary to the long-standing belief that the income tax imposes an excess tax burden on all investment return, recent scholarship establishes that, relative to a pure income tax, the consumption tax relinquishes the tax burden on only the risk-free investment return. Accordingly, the consumption tax addresses the loopholes while relinquishing relatively little.

Despite such threshold appeal, a consumption tax has not yet replaced the income tax. This Article descriptively explains this failure through an analysis of the leading progressive consumption tax proposal: the cash flow tax. The Article recaps the serious offsetting concerns raised by commentary on the cash flow tax, exhibiting how such concerns relate primarily to the cash flow tax's wholesale removal of current tax on saved wages. Specifically, the lack of any current tax on saved wages raises tax avoidance, transition, and revenue concerns. In addition, saving decisions could be impacted in undesirable ways under a cash flow tax with progressive rates. Accordingly, the case for the consumption tax has been weakened by these concerns.

The normative portion of this Article then presents a new progressive consumption tax proposal: a hybrid approach. Like the current income tax, the hybrid approach generally would tax wages, even if saved for future consumption. In addition, the hybrid approach would utilize a modified cash flow approach to tax the excess of (i) savings withdrawals for consumption, over (ii) previously saved wages, increased by the risk-free return thereon. As a result, the hybrid approach would capture the benefits of consumption taxation without the disabling problems of the cash flow tax. As discussed in the Article, the hybrid approach achieves this result since (i) the wage tax component addresses the cash flow tax concerns, and (ii) the modified cash flow component addresses the income tax problems.

Publication Title

Alabama Law Review

First Page

1205

Volume

54

Included in

Law Commons

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