Tax reforms lead to higher taxes

After the 1970s tax revolts and California’s Proposition 13, Buchanan and Brennan wrote The Power to Tax. Their message was that if you don’t always trust governments, beware of efficient taxes.

More efficient taxes make it easier for government to extract more tax revenue from the population with less resistance. Taxes can be made more efficient by broadening tax bases and removing loopholes while lowering marginal rates. A GST that replaces a web of sales taxes is a common example. The GST always goes up over time, never down over time. Most tax reforms are revenue neutral.

When Brennan said at a tax reform conference in Australia 20 years or so ago that efficient taxes and tax reforms are both bad because they lead to higher taxes and a larger government, no one understood him.

Idealists all, the audience including me assumed they were advising a benevolent government, not a revenue-maximising leviathan government – a beast that needed to be staved with constitutional constraints on the number and size of tax bases and tax instruments.

Fiscal arrangements were analysed by Buchanan and Brennan in The Power to Tax in terms of the preferences of citizen-taxpayers who are permitted at some constitutional level of choice to select the fiscal institutions they are to be subject to over an uncertain future.

Those in elected office are assumed to exploit the power assigned to them to the maximum possible extent: government is a revenue-maximising leviathan.

Buchanan and Brennan were all for inefficient tax systems because they do not raise as much revenue. A government that cannot raise much revenue cannot grow very large.

Gary Becker and Casey Mulligan attributed the growth in the size of governments in the 20th century to demographic shifts, more efficient taxes, more efficient spending, a shift in the political power from the taxed to the subsidised, shifts in political power among taxed groups, and shifts in political power among the subsidised groups:

An improvement in the efficiency of either taxes or spending would reduce political pressure for suppressing the growth of government and thereby increase total tax revenue and spending.

Tax reform saved the late 20th century welfare state by raising the same or more revenue with less taxpayer resistance. Taxes are very efficient in the Nordic countries – high tax rates on labour income and consumption but lower on capital income. And light regulation too.

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Cross Post: Jim Rose – Tax reforms lead to higher taxes - Freedom's Floodgates
  2. nottrampis
    Jan 28, 2015 @ 11:52:38

    does smaller government lead to a better economic outcome.
    It appears not although I would not advocate getting to European levels. Our level is not large and government spending rises as income rises.

    Like

    Reply

  3. Trackback: Tax reform leads to higher taxes – the evidence on the GST | Utopia - you are standing in it!

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