Friday, January 22, 2010

The FairTax Rate: a 23% tomato or a 30% tomato?

As the FairTax gains more national attention, questions have again arisen about whether the FairTax rate is 23 percent or 30 percent. In the toxic environment that often accompanies public policy debates, has even been accused by some of misleading the public, even though full descriptions of "tax-inclusive" and "tax-exclusive" calculations abound on our Web site. We hope the following explanation puts all such questions to rest -- at last.

Let’s use an example to illustrate the difference between tax-inclusive and tax-exclusive tax rates.

Assume there is a worker named Joe who earns $125 and spends all of his earnings. Let’s further assume that the government requires him to pay $25 in taxes.

If the government put a tax on Joe’s income, he would earn $125 before tax and would have $100 after tax to spend at the General Store. Thus, Joe has to earn $125 to have $100 to spend. Joe would also have to file an income tax return.

If the government put a tax on what Joe spends, he would earn $125 and would have $125 to spend at the store. Of the $125 paid by Joe to the storekeeper, $100 would be for the goods he bought at the store and $25 would be taxes that the storekeeper would send to the government. Joe would not have to file a tax return, as the storekeeper sends the tax in to the government.

Either way, Joe pays $25 in taxes and the government gets $25 in taxes. With a tax on income, Joe pays the $25 directly to the government, and with the tax on spending (sales tax), he pays the $25 in taxes indirectly when he buys something from the General Store. The General Store sends the tax that Joe paid to the government.

We may report the tax rate as $25/$125 = 20 percent, which is the tax-inclusive rate (meaning that the tax is included in the base). Alternately, we may think of the tax rate as $25/$100 = 25 percent, which is the tax-exclusive rate (meaning the tax is excluded from the base). The 23 percent FairTax rate set out in HR 25/S 1025 is a tax-inclusive rate, as is the current personal income tax, whereas most state-level sales taxes are quoted on a tax-exclusive basis. For ease of comparison, gives the tax rate both ways. Both rates are relevant, since the FairTax is replacing an income tax system, and 23 percent correctly represents the tax burden compared to the current system.

To review some of the research that determined a 23% (inclusive) rate is correct, please read Taxing Sales Under the FairTax: What Rate Works? This paper is a collaborative effort of 5 respected and independent economists.

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