Consider a nation whose money is entirely digital (like Bitcoin), but centralized (unlike Bitcoin). Furthermore, the total money supply is fixed, i.e. money cannot be created nor destroyed. To be clear, not even the government can create or destroy money. Money can only be transferred between individuals, businesses and government. In a nutshell, this represents the entire monetary system. At any given point in time, the amount of money owned by an individual or a business divided by the total money supply represents their share of purchasing power at that particular point in time.
That’s pretty straightforward, but the tax system is where it gets weird. It involves none of the taxes we are accustomed to (e.g. income taxes, payroll taxes, consumption taxes, property taxes, capital gains taxes, inheritance taxes, etc.) All taxes are replaced with a single tax: a flat tax on the amount of money owned. This tax would be automatically levied at a pre-determined frequency (e.g. every month). For example, through a democratic process, let’s say that we agree that the we should be taxed at 36% annually. Then, every month, every individual and every business would be taxed at a flat rate of 3% of the amount of money they owned. This flat tax could be made arbitrarily progressive if part of it is used to provide a UBI. Of course, how that money is spent by the government would be decided, again, through a democratic process. Also, in reality, this tax would be levied by the different levels of government (e.g. federal, state and local). This has implications, but I won’t go over them here for the sake of brevity.
Unlike our current taxes, this tax fits perfectly with Adam Smith’s four criteria of good taxes (Theories of taxation):
“They are (1) proportionate to incomes or ability to pay, (2) certain rather than arbitrary, (3) payable at times and in ways convenient to the taxpayers and (4) cheap to administer and collect.”
Only the third criterion is debatable, but I think it would be as convenient as a tax can be. At least, you wouldn’t have to hire someone or spend hours to complete your tax return. On top of that, here are some obvious advantages of this tax system:
- It eliminates all problems associated with physical money (e.g. unwanted destruction, wearing and counterfeiting)
- It eliminates all possibilities of tax avoidance and tax evasion, and hopefully all the IQ points that go into those activities can shift towards something more valuable
- It eliminates the power to create and destroy money from government, so no more hidden taxes in the form of inflation
- It eliminates the power to create and destroy money from commercial banks, which is a major source of economic instability (e.g. bank runs simply can’t occur under this system)
- It makes it easier to track the economic state of the nation (e.g. for issues like income distribution)
That said, it fundamentally changes the nature of money, which is a legitimate concern. Currently, money can be used as a pseudo store of value (“pseudo” because inflation slowly decreases its value over time). In this alternative system, the value of money would probably increase over time (because its fixed supply would almost certainly caused slow deflation). However, money could not be used as a store of value since the same earned money would be taxed over and over (and that wouldn't make up for the deflation). Thus, in order to save, money would have to be invested in a physical or financial asset that can be redeemed for money at a later time and/or that slowly pays dividends. This would require significant human adaptation on how we conceptualize money. In order for this system to work, it’s crucial that this digital money reflects purchasing power. Perhaps, human beings would simply reject the idea of that money as having any value and would immediately move towards another form of money. It’s hard to image how it would play out in real life.
My questions are:
- Has that type of taxation ever been considered in the economic field devoted to the study of taxation? If so, can you point me to it?
- How would this actually play out? (in your opinion, or according to the economic literature)