Considering that yesterday was the day that most Canadians were supposed to have filed their tax returns, I see the usual complaints about it being complicated. With that in mind, here are two possible ways to simplify the tax system. They offer features that should appeal to people from all across the political spectrum.
The first one is known as a “negative income tax“. About four in every five economists (79%) agree (possibly with provisos) that “the government should restructure the welfare system along the lines of a ‘negative income tax.'” The features of a NIT are as follows (I’ve explained them in comments elsewhere, but this is the first time in a post at this blog):
All income, whatever the source, is taxed at a flat rate. This includes incomes that are currently exempt, taxed differently, or deferred, such as capital gains and inheritances. Second, all deductions, whatever the basis, are eliminated. This includes ones like charitable donations, political party donations, or hazardous jobs. The result of this is that everyone with the same nominal income pays the same tax. Third, all welfare systems, like social assistance or unemployment insurance, are eliminated and instead converted into a refundable tax credit of some amount. Each taxpayer subtracts the refund from the income tax they paid. If the result is negative, they get a refund from the government. If the result is positive, they pay the difference to the government.
Let’s use examples to demonstrate. For the sake of this example, we’ll assume that the flat rate is 20%, and that the refund is $5000. There is nothing special about these numbers; they are examples only.
Alice’s T-slips indicate that she earned $20000 last year. She pays 20% of that ($4000) in taxes. She gets a refund of $5000, which means that she actually gets a net $1000 from the government. The same year, Bret earns $25000. He pays 20% of that ($5000) and gets a $5000 refund. Therefore, he actually pays no net taxes and gets no money from the government. The same year, Chris earns $30000. This taxpayer pays 20% of that ($6000) in taxes. After the refund, $1000 is still owing, so this taxpayer actually pays a net tax of $1000.
As can be seen from the examples, by tinkering with the rate or the refund, a guaranteed minimum income can be maintained, and any arbitrary no tax payable point can be chosen. Update (2013–05–05): And it goes without saying that certain “special circumstances” can be given a slightly different refund, such as dependents or disability.
The negative income tax system has a number of significant advantages over the current regime (after the jump). In no particular order: