It’s Time the US Abolished the Income Tax: Bring on the consumption tax. (John H. Cochrane, February 12, 2024, CBR)

Here there is an awkward truth of taxation. Unexpected, “just this once and we’ll never do it again” wealth taxes are economically efficient. The problem of taxation is disincentives. If you announce a wealth tax in the future, people respond by not accumulating wealth. They go on round-the-world private jet tours instead of investing and building companies. But if you tax existing wealth, and nobody knew it was coming, there is no disincentive.

This is, however, one of the most misused propositions in economics. That “just this once and never again” promise isn’t credible: if the government did it once, why not again? And it feels horribly unfair, doesn’t it, grabbing wealth willy-nilly? Unpredictability is not something responsive, rule-of-law democracies can or should do.

In any case, as with corporate income, taxing investment income also makes no sense. You earn money, pay taxes on it, and invest it. If you choose to consume later rather than now, why pay additional tax on it? One of the main don’t-distort-the-economy propositions is that we should give people the full incentive to save by refraining from taxing investment income.

So why do we tax investment income? Again, because once you tax income, you have to start plugging holes. Many people can shift labor income to investment income. If you run a business, don’t take a salary but pay yourself a dividend. If you’re a consultant, incorporate yourself and call it all business income. In the 1980s, even cab drivers incorporated to get lower tax rates.

The income tax is the original sin. Taxing income made no sense on an economic basis. The government only did it because it was easy to measure and grab, at least before people started inventing a century’s worth of clever schemes to redefine “income.” It has led inescapably to more sins, such as the corporate tax and the tax on investment income. And now the repatriation tax on accumulated foreign earnings.

What’s the solution? Well, duh. Tax consumption, not income or wealth. Get the rich down at the Porsche dealer. Leave alone any money reinvested in a company that is employing people and producing products. Now we can do it. And we can then throw out the income tax, corporate tax, and estate tax.