Friday, March 14, 2014

D.Ricardo, JS Mill, A.Smith and Bong Mendoza on Taxes, BIR vs. Doctors

Two good essays here by a friend, Dr. Amado "Bong" Mendoza of the UP Political Science Department. There is a need of course to justify which are the real "public goods" that need continued provision by government and hence, would need continued taxation. There is a growing role for corporate and civil society sectors in providing many public goods that used to be monopolistically provided by governments then. Like quick dispatch of relief goods and food items to victims of calamities like heavy flooding and storm surges. Or residential villages that provide many services to the community, from roads/drainage construction and maintenance, street lighting and security, and they collect annual association dues and various fees -- these serve in effect as taxes and regulatory fees .

Taxation: coercive and consensual

March 06, 2014

In theory, taxation is essentially coercive because taxes are never paid voluntarily. However, taxes are supposedly collected not only for purpose of collecting them but to finance public goods. Thus, consensual taxation is possible since private taxpayers desire public goods (the reason why they left the state of nature in the first place).

In comparing coercive and consensual or negotiated taxation, Michael Moore of the University of Sussex, not the controversial film-maker, argued that the latter constituted a better institutional technology. Coercive taxation (largely in agrarian societies) is relatively ineffective since it tends to generate resistance and because coercive tax collectors were well placed to pocket a large part of the proceeds for themselves. In contrast, consensual taxation offers (within the boundaries of individual states) joint gains for both rulers and taxpayers.

In the late 18th century, the idea that citizens must contribute to the upkeep of a state was developed.  On of the political economists of the time, Adam Smith forwarded four maxims of taxation (equity, certainty, convenience, and efficiency).  These maxim were also supported subsequently by David Ricardo and John Stuart Mill:

1. “The subjects of every state ought to contribute to the support of the government, as nearly as possible in proportion to their respective abilities: that is, in proportion to the revenue which they respectively enjoy under the protection of the state. In the observation or neglect of this maxim consists what is called the equality or inequality of taxation.

2. “The tax which each individual is bound to pay ought to be certain, and not arbitrary. The time of payment, the manner of payment, the quantity to be paid, ought all to be clear and plain to the contributor, and to every other person. Where it is otherwise, every person subject to the tax is put more or less in the power of the tax-gatherer, who can either aggravate the tax upon any obnoxious contributor, or extort, by the terror of such aggravation, some present or perquisite to himself. The uncertainty of taxation encourages the insolence and favours the corruption of an order of men who are naturally unpopular, even when they are neither insolent nor corrupt. The certainty of what each individual ought to pay is, in taxation, a matter of so great importance, that a very considerable degree of inequality, it appears, I believe, from the experience of all nations, is not near so great an evil, as a very small degree of uncertainty.

3. “Every tax ought to be levied at the time, or in the manner, in which it is most likely to be convenient for the contributor to pay it. A tax upon the rent of land or of houses, payable at the same term at which such rents are usually paid, is levied at a time when it is most likely to be convenient for the contributor to pay; or when he is most likely to have wherewithal to pay. Taxes upon such consumable goods as are articles of luxury are all finally paid by the consumer, and generally in a manner that is very convenient to him. He pays them by little and little, as he has occasion to buy the goods. As he is at liberty, too, either to buy or not to buy, as he pleases, it must be his own fault if he ever suffers any considerable inconvenience from such taxes.

4. “Every tax ought to be so contrived as both to take out and to keep out of the pockets of the people as little as possible over and above what it brings into the public treasury of the state. A tax may either take out or keep out of the pockets of the people a great deal more than it brings into the public treasury, in the four following ways. First, the levying of it may require a great number of officers, whose salaries may eat up the greater part of the produce of the tax, and whose perquisites may impose another additional tax upon the people.” Secondly, it may divert a portion of the labour and capital of the community from a more to a less productive employment. “Thirdly, by the forfeitures and other penalties which those unfortunate individuals incur who attempt unsuccessfully to evade the tax, it may frequently ruin them, and thereby put an end to the benefit which the community might have derived from the employment of their capitals. An injudicious tax offers a great temptation to smuggling.

Fourthly, by subjecting the people to the frequent visits and the odious examination of the tax-gatherers, it may expose them to much unnecessary trouble, vexation, and oppression:” to which may be added, that the restrictive regulations to which trades and manufactures are often subjected to prevent evasion of a tax, are not only in themselves troublesome and expensive, but often oppose insuperable obstacles to making improvements in the processes.

To Adam Smith’s mind, bad governance is excessive taxation of capital and property. Not taxation per se, as he recognized the need for public goods and the role of the state in the provision of such goods. Bad governance discourages investment and owners of transportable assets can readily change domiciles to jurisdictions with acceptable tax burdens. Smith argued that a tax burden is acceptable to businessmen if the state is able to provide an equally acceptable bundle of public goods.

The limits of public shaming

March 13, 2014

The controversy generated by BIR Commissioner Kim Henares' shaming indictment of an entire profession reminds me of these words I wrote earlier.

Taxation is “a compelling phenomenon precisely because it is where the politics meets the economics” and because the “way in which a nation taxes creates incentives that pervasively influence the way in which political and economic life become organized”.
When a government collects taxes, it removes revenues out of the private sector and therefore reduces the disposable income of private economic actors. Taxes meanwhile are necessary so that public goods may be supplied in adequate quantities and in a timely fashion. Thus taxes represent the costs imposed by governments so they can provide public goods.

From the point of view of an average citizen, taxes potentially can (and do not actually) change the public-private mix of goods and services that she consumes. If no taxes were imposed (i.e., there is no state), then a person’s consumption package composed solely of private goods.

However, as the English political philosopher Thomas Hobbes reminded us, life in the ‘state of nature’ (i.e., the state of statelessness) is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”. Thus a state is created so public goods (in this case, recourse to a powerful Leviathan to maintain peace and order and prevent people from simply taking the lives and the property of others as they see fit) could be provided.

Bottom line, taxation is extortion even as voluntary taxation is more productive than coercive taxation. It is ultimately backed by the state's coercive instruments like the police, courts, and jails.

In this sense, while expected to provide to provide public goods, the state itself can become a public bad. Indeed, while some professionals (doctors, lawyers, accountants, etc.) do not pay the proper taxes because of the lack of a paper trail (receipts, for instance), it is not right right to condemn an entire group for the "sins" of some. One cannot use logic to indict an entire profession; a more solid case against individuals is needed.

It's true that the interests of cheating professionals and their clients are quite aligned. The issuance of receipts could be reason for passing the tax burden to the clients themselves. So clients make do with no receipts for lower professional fees. However, a lower tax take (because of these cases of tax evasion or under-assessment) harms the clients in the long run as the practice diminishes the general fund for public goods.

The country's tax authorities, instead of conducting this shame campaign, should allocate more time and resources, in convincing consumers that they're better off with receipts from professionals. Of course, the public must be convinced that tax revenues are indeed spent for the provision of public goods and not for lining private pockets or for public empire building.

No comments: