Taxing Ourselves

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  • Edition: 4th
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2008-04-30
  • Publisher: Mit Pr

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As Albert Einstein may or may not have said, "The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax." Indeed, to follow the debate over tax reform, the interested citizen is forced to choose between misleading sound bites and academic treatises. Taxing Ourselvesbridges the gap between the two by discussing the key issues clearly and without a political agenda: Should the federal income tax be replaced with a flat tax or sales tax? Should it be left in place and reformed? Can tax cuts stimulate the economy, or will higher deficits undermine any economic benefit? Tax policy experts Joel Slemrod and Jon Bakija lay out in accessible language what is known and not known about how taxes affect the economy, offer guidelines for evaluating tax systems, and provide enough information to assess both the current income tax system and the leading proposals to reform or replace it (including the flat tax and the consumption tax). The fourth edition of this popular guide has been extensively revised to incorporate the latest information, covering such recent developments as the Bush administration's tax cuts (which expire in 2011) and the alternatives proposed by the President's Advisory Panel on Federal Tax Reform. Slemrod and Bakija provide us with the knowledge and the tools-including an invaluable voter's guide to the tax policy debate-to make our own informed choices about how we should tax ourselves.

Table of Contents

Prefacep. xi
Introductionp. 1
Complaints about the Current Tax Systemp. 3
A Different Way to Taxp. 7
Objections to Radical Reformp. 9
Changes in the Context of the Current Systemp. 10
The Need for Objective Analysisp. 11
What's in This Citizen's Guidep. 11
An Overview of the U.S. Tax Systemp. 13
How Governments in the United States Get Their Moneyp. 13
International Comparisonsp. 15
Historical Perspectives on the U.S. Tax Systemp. 16
Personal Income Taxationp. 28
Basic Features of the U.S. Corporate Income Taxp. 47
The Social Security Payroll Taxp. 52
Estate and Gift Taxesp. 53
Conclusionp. 55
Fairnessp. 57
Vertical Equity and Tax Progressivityp. 59
Horizontal Equity: Equal Treatment of Equalsp. 87
Transitional Equityp. 96
Conclusionp. 98
Taxes and Economic Prosperityp. 99
Taxes and the Business Cyclep. 100
Budget Deficits and Surplusesp. 103
How Much Should Government Do?p. 106
Tax Cuts to Force Spending Cuts versus Surpluses to Prepare for an Aging Populationp. 108
How Taxes Affect Long-Run Economic Prosperityp. 112
A First Cut at the Evidence
How Taxes Affect Economic Prosperityp. 119
The Specifics
Conclusionp. 157
Simplicity and Enforceabilityp. 159
How Complicated Is Our Tax System?p. 159
What Makes a Tax System Complicated?p. 165
What Facilitates Enforcement?p. 185
Conclusionp. 188
Elements of Fundamental Reformp. 189
A Single Ratep. 189
A Consumption Basep. 194
A Clean Tax Basep. 216
Conclusionp. 230
What Are the Alternatives?p. 231
How the Consumption Tax Plans Workp. 232
At What Rate?p. 239
Simplicity and Enforceability of the Consumption Tax Plansp. 244
Distributional Effects of the Consumption Tax Alternativesp. 253
Economic Effects of Consumption Tax Plansp. 262
Conclusionp. 268
Starting from Herep. 269
Integration: Eliminating the Double Taxation of Corporate Incomep. 270
Corporate Welfare and Corporate Tax Sheltersp. 273
Inflation Indexingp. 277
Capital Gainsp. 279
Savings Incentives in the Income Taxp. 283
The Estate Taxp. 288
Simplifying the Income Taxp. 292
Technological Improvements and the Promise of a Return-Free Systemp. 294
The President's Advisory Panel on Federal Tax Reformp. 295
A Hybrid Approach: Combining a VAT with Income Taxationp. 299
Conclusionp. 303
A Voter's Guide to the Tax Policy Debatep. 305
Tax Cuts versus Tax Reformp. 305
Tax Cuts as a Trojan Horsep. 306
The Devil Is in the Detailsp. 306
The Tax System Can't Encourage Everythingp. 307
Fairness Is a Slippery Concept but an Important Onep. 307
Be Skeptical of Claims of Economic Nirvanap. 307
The Tax System Can Be Improvedp. 308
A Double Witching Hourp. 309
Notesp. 311
Referencesp. 343
Indexp. 365
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