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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Purpose of Taxation

My own personal feelings on budgets as it relates to government is more nuanced than the traditional conservative (I hate government spending and taxes) versus liberal (I love - or at least support - government spending and taxes).

I generally lean slightly conservative when it comes to my own personal budget.  I've never been one to use a credit card much or to hold a large balance (I once did that, but I learned my lesson).   I spend within my means.   My means being my take home income.   My means would be nearly infinite of course if I had a printing press and could otherwise create "Garth bucks" and get people to accept those as currency.  But alas I don't have that power.  

States, like my home state of Indiana, are in similar boats.   Indiana is quite a bit larger than me though financially speaking and has a lower credit risk and it can issue its own bonds for funding in times where taxes may not be strong enough to support government spending, but long-term, State governments have to balance their books (either by statute, or out of necessity because they have limited credit availability).  Like me, Indiana can't create and issue its own "Indiana bucks."   Because of this, I generally prefer my State to be a bit conservative when it comes to its spending habits.   

Then there is the federal government.  The federal government is massive - it's a fifth of our entire economy (give or take).  It makes spending decisions, but almost always runs a deficit.  And it can do so into perpetuity.   Like States, it issues bonds, but unlike a State the US government has its own monopoly control of its currency that it itself issues, which has a significant demand on the market because it is accepted as currency - the most powerful currency on Earth.   Because of this monopoly control of its own currency, the Federal government does not need to "fund" its spending via taxation.   In fact, in general, the decision to spend federal funds is made independently from the decision to tax.   That may sound odd to people that think that our taxes go directly to 'fund' our federal spending, but that's the way it is.   The use of taxes to fund spending is an optical illusion that gets perpetuated in the media - liberal or otherwise.  

So what purpose does taxation at the federal level serve?  Well, largely it's to modulate private spending demand.   (I would argue a secondary but significant purpose is income redistribution to regulate economic inequality)  When taxes rise, resources are taken from me, Indiana, and other entities that have limited funding sources because we don't control our own currency.   Because of that, our spending demand shrinks.  Contrarily, when taxes fall, resources are given to me, you, and Indiana, and our demand to spend some or all of that money rises.  The fact that the government has changed the taxation level at the federal level need not have any bearing whatsoever on the federal decision to spend - it effects the private decision to spend greatly however, and in that way, regulates spending demand and inflation.   This is a fundamental difference between the US government compared to individuals and States (and even the European Union countries like Greece that also do not have control of their own individual currency).   

I feel like many of our political disagreements would be better served by understanding these nuances as it relates to taxation.  My fear is that the media and political extremists have made it virtually impossible to have an honest examination on the different role of taxes at different entity levels.   It's just all black and white to them.   Taxes are good or evil depending on the political persuasion, and that unfortunately does nobody any good at the end of the day. 

33 comments:

Ramanan said...

Garth,

These things are just a bit of word play.

Imagine a economy with the government expenditure about $15 and average tax rate around 15% and the GDP around $100. And another with $20, 20% and $100. And both at near full output. For the first to have government expenditure at $20, it may have to wait for a while for productive capacity to go higher while the government increases expenditure from $15 to $20 over time. The other route is increase average tax rates, so that the government can spend more. So in that sense taxes fund expenditure. There is no need for making counter intuitive claims that taxes do not fund expenditure and so on.

That the government can run deficits and increase demand by higher expenditure and hence output or that expenditure is not strongly bound by tax receipts is not inconsistent with "taxes fund expenditure". Because taxes do fund expenditure.

Magpie said...

Although I'm sure you have this clear in your mind, I'd suggest, for your readers' benefit, to explain exactly what "to modulate private spending demand" means.

Tariffs, for instance, can be said to "modulate private spending demand", just like taxes on cigarettes/booze: they are supposed to reduce demand for specific goods. Another example are "carbon taxes": they are meant to reduce green house gas emissions.

Income taxes also "modulate private spending demand", but do not target a particular good, having however, larger redistributive effects; taxes on wealth, too, have redistributive effects, but should affect consumption only marginally.

Cheers.

Ben Johannson said...

@Magpie

Enactment of the personal income tax in 1938 was not to increase revenues but to dampen inflationary pressures. Government at the time was preparing for war and needed more of the domestic economy's output. If it had simply spent more prices would likely have increased as it outbid the private sector. To avoid this it enacted a tax to reduce the private sector's income and thereby reduce the share of national output it could purchase. The difference, or output gap, between what was bought and what could be produced then became available for government to provision itself.

Ben Johannson said...

@Ramanan

The dollar that government takes in taxation is not used for anything, it's just destroyed. I would argue the notion government uses "my tax dollars" to be the truly counter-intuitive claim. It enables the inaccurate belief that money is a commodity and therefore a scarce resource.

Garth A Brazelton said...

@Ramanan, the government doesn't need to "wait" for productive capacity. It has two main tools, taxing and spending.

Let's assume we are at full productive capacity.

If it goes on the market and tries to spend, inflation rises.
If it raises taxes, inflation falls.

Taxes are therefore important particularly when we are at this hypothetical full capacity in order to keep inflation in check.

But that is not the same thing as saying that taxes 'fund' the spending. And the government need not try to control inflation. IF it were a bad actor, it could keep adding to demand and let inflation grow and grow.

So, really, the only constraint for an economy that doesn't want to destroy itself is inflation (besides obvious silly political constraints like the debt ceiling). But that is an economic constraint - there is no financial constraint.

Auburn Parks said...

And one more thing Ramanan:

The economy is almost never at full capacity. And furthermore, its NEVER NEVER at full capacity in the pure fiat era(post 1971) without a giant private debt bubble. So you are the one that is actively poorly portraying our economic reality.

If productivity growth and real wages grew in tandem for decades before 1980 without causing problematic inflation (1970's oil shock inflation had nothing to do with deficits), what makes you think that our current environment should be any different?

marris said...

> So what purpose does taxation at the federal level serve? Well, largely it's to modulate private spending demand... Because of that, our spending demand shrinks.

By this reasoning, the purpose of the levees in New Orleans is to keep the ocean level higher. After all, without the levees, water would flow into a lower elevation area and the ocean level would be lower than it is now.

It is MMT to confuse effect and purpose.

Any "normal person's" view of the "purpose of taxation" aligns precisely with the *purpose intended by most tax authorizers*:
to fund government spending (to enable it without debt issuance).

PEACE

Anonymous said...

@marris

The levy does in fact keep the level of the ocean higher. It all depends on how you look at it.

Senexx said...

From June

http://alittleecon.wordpress.com/2013/06/16/on-tax-avoidance-and-the-purpose-of-taxation/

Ramanan said...

Garth,

Right it doesn't need to wait but I have a situation in which it was near full capacity. To expand expenditure, it needs more taxes.

Similar stuff with below full capacity. There is some level of expenditure above which capacity is full for a given tax rate, so if it needs more expenditure, then more taxes. If tax rates are reduced, government expenditure when full capacity is reached is less compared to the case of higher tax rates.

Ben Johannson confuses many issues. An interest payment to the bank also destroys money but it doesn't mean that the bank doesn't get anything or that sort.

Yes money is not a commodity, so what?

All these "taxes don't fund" are just word plays.

Magpie said...

I probably did not explain myself clearly, for which I apologize.

What sometimes Functional Finance people forget is that business cycle considerations are not the only things to be taken into account when deciding deficit levels.

For instance, one could justify an increase in tobacco taxes even if a concurrent fiscal deficit is deemed necessary: in this case, the need to reduce tobacco consumption is judged more pressing than the need to stimulate the economy.

Garth A Brazelton said...

Again assuming we are operating at full capacity hypothetical (I tend to agree with Auburn that we are constantly growing and that hitting such wall is not going to be an issue, except maybe in wartime or during significant crisis)....

If the government passes a bill to go on the market to buy a watch, and say that one watch makes up our entire production, theoretically you'd have a vertical supply and the government demanding that watch along with various consumers. The extra demand would not create more watches or more real GDP, but it would increase nominal spending by raising prices.

In the real world, the government has a lot more power than the consumer so if it came down to a crisis, the government likely would get their watch no matter what, albeit at a likely higher price - but lower that what a perfectly competitive scenario would be because of the government's asymmetric power as a buyer.

In that case, yes, the consumer has lost the ability to convert its liquidity to a real good. That is a form of crowding out but not in the usual sense of loan-able funds and interest rate effects. It's the kind of crowding out that we don't really see except maybe in wartime.

But in aggregate, the watch was still purchased, just by the government instead of the consumer. And that payment / money goes to the private sector to buy other things. So, while one specific consumer may have lost some value, the total economy has not. The only change in aggregate is inflation.

Ramanan said...

I did NOT assume full capacity. I started out giving an example at full capacity to illustrate how it works for below full capacity.

I understand that the government has a lot more power than economists and people realize. "Taxes do not fund anything" is a silly way of saying this.

In fact you could perhaps try to find ways to say the former without bringing in taxes do not fund and all that.

Why? Because taxes do fund expenditures.

At present in the United States, where capacity utilization is far below 100, the government can increase expenditure a lot without increasing tax rates. That it can do does not mean that it should do it that way because both taxes and expenditure can be raised - tax rates on the rich for example.

PeterP said...

Ramanan,
What you do is word play/trolling.

Taxes do not fund expenditure, full capacity or not. Repeating that they do doesn't change anything. "Funding" means you need to obtain funds or the spending won't happen. Taxes are optional, if you are willing to live with consequences.

Even at full capacity, if you want to spend extra 100B, you don't need to tax extra 100B. If you care about inflation you need to discourage 100B of private spending with taxes, and how much taxing it takes is hard to say. Maybe 50B extra tax would do the trick or you need to hit the private sector with 150B of new taxes? In any case they will not be used to fund the spending but to withdraw spending power from the private sector.

Ramanan said...

"What you do is word play/trolling"

Well ya call anyone who disagrees a troll.

"Repeating that they do doesn't change anything."

"taxes do not fund anything" is repeated more often!

"Taxes are optional, if you are willing to live with consequences."

Self-contradiction. It's like saying poverty is optional if you are willing to live with consequences.

"Even at full capacity, if you want to spend extra 100B, you don't need to tax extra 100B. If you care about inflation you need to discourage 100B of private spending with taxes,"

Precisely because you care about price and inflation you would need that extra 100B.

"In any case they will not be used to fund the spending but to withdraw spending power from the private sector."

Self-contradiction again. In the situation you have, spending power is removed from one set of economic units to create spending via others.

Ramanan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ramanan said...

FYI PeterP,

The best way to describe such things is the language of flow of funds. Taxes are a source of funds for the government, and a short form people use is taxes fund.

The fact that the expenditure of the government is exogenous in the sense that it is under its control and that it is not limited by the amount of taxes collected does not mean that taxes are not a source of funds for the government.

But the phrase exogenous has different meanings, so near full capacity, government expenditure becomes endogenous in the sense that it becomes tied to capacity utilization, although it is still exogenous in the sense that it is under the control of the government.

More generally capacity utilization itself is endogenous which is what Garth is saying and expenditure can be increased to aim at bring higher total capacity. But government spending can also be increased by bringing in more taxes.

None of these mean taxes aren't a source of funds.

Anonymous said...

Taxes represent value previously generated by the ignition of the government money. An this value is what taxes aprropate. If this coertion (taxes) didn't exist, the subsequent act of spending by the government would lose credibility. Taxes fund spending and spending crestes taxes.. As almost snd everywhere , all human artefacts have that circular caracteristic, one cannot ne understood without the other.

H. Publius said...

The simple way to explain taxation: it monetizes fiat money and puts a floor to money demand. Basically, it is the tool that enables state monopoly of money issuance. In other words money demand places a constraint to both fiscal and monetary policy as evidenced by periods of inflation, asset booms and busts or prolonged stagnation at the lower zero bound. I write about this in detail here tinyurl.com/k3kn3e9 and provide evidence of the money demand constraint over the last 60 years, which can very accurately explain inflation in the 1960's and 70's, the asset boom and busts of the 1990's and 2000's and the current period of stagnation.

So to say that governments are financially unconstrained is to ignore the enormous impact money demand has on our economic lives. In order to reveal the true nature of money (including the money demand constraint), you need endogenous money ISLM - which I describe here tinyurl.com/k4vjswm

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Nomfundo Dube said...

Well the purpose of taxation in my view is to bring about income equality. Think about it what does the government do with tax money ... it goes towards the poor in form of transfer payments, it goes towards free health care and education for those who cannot afford it.

thato malele said...

I would be happy to pay taxes if government were actually using my tax money for the purposes that it was intended and not to build large estates and call them "security upgrades"

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Tel said...

It is very easy to demonstrate that tax is required to fund government spending. What happens if all tax is zero, and government simply "prints money"? Answer: inflation, absolutely guaranteed. It's been demonstrated many times over.

Thus, without tax, the fiat currency has no value, which is logical because ultimately the only thing you can really use a fiat currency for is to pay your tax. That is the thing that drives the value of the currency, the thing that forces people to use that currency at all.

If internally government has one decision making process for tax, and another for spending (not entirely true actually) but even if it did, this doesn't change the economic reality. It's completely irrelevant to the question.

So the only thing the MMT'ers have in their favour is that *for a short time* government can run high deficits without any immediate consequence. That is to say, inflation does not happen quickly, and depending on a bunch of "sticky price" factors governments have some leverage in terms of money printing. This is also known as a "Cantillon Effect" after Richard Cantillon who demonstrated it. It makes some people rich, while making others poor, depending on who gets first dibs on the new money. If you believe governments are good at economic governance, you might also believe they could put this Cantillon Effect to work for the common good.

The danger of course is the "just one drink" problem... very quickly governments get addicted to running deficits, and then in the long run it's all over.

scott ryan said...

Government spending isn't everything. We can make tax that save the people money.

There is only 1 way to turn green start jobs and hand the public an extra $6 - $7.5k pa, after 7 years of the tax. That's by doing a carbon tax and a 2.5% GST like this below.

Going green you have to remember that these company's have to spend the money to buy the stuff to make profit. If the carbon tax buys it all, the government's get it for free "100%" profit.

In Australia i have found away to turn the country green why handing the state governments billions of dollars in extra funding. I also start a new system that self funds public cost and government departments for life. It works by them living of the interest interest that even pays for a rise in cost for life.

This will work in all country's, some more then others. In Australia this would save the public $6k - $7.5k within 7 years. The taxes work by pop size, so it's the same for every country.

Just remember some countries can still do part of this. If you already have a carbon tax change the system of name. Just call it a big biz tax that doesn't put a price on carbon and it brings in the same amount in pa.

This is for AU and most of it will work around the world. Get it all for free and works on pop size.

I call for the carbon tax and to rise or make a 2.5% GST. The money to pay will save you $6k - $7.5k in 7 years time. That's after taking off what you paid for the GST.

I'm saying to rise the GST by 2.5% + the carbon tax to save the public money...But first.....

Instead of rising the GST.We should do a 4 year carbon tax and divide up the $14 billion dollars between the states.

What we need to do is start self funding government department's growth.

We need to use a temporary 4 year carbon tax, too turn AU green and save the public money "why" making the state government's billion of dollars pa.

This is how we do it.

We divide up the Carbon tax money between the state governments. Each year they will put down billions or dollars worth of solar panels and wind turbines and will make billion pa and control the price of power "unto the 4th year" then they own and sell all power in Australia.

If big biz pays for it, the Gov makes 100% profit. They in return can cut power prices to us and small biz by 40%. We in return make / subsidies people buying electric stoves and hot water systems, scrapping a bill and connection cost 2 the public. It also cuts power prices by 40%. Gas is going up by 30% and it's the same price of power just about.

There are many factors to going green.

1, there are new solar panels that make 34% more power than the old 1s.

2, Solar panels on people's houses are missing out on 30% of the sun, because of their placement. Now also add in the city's there are clouds. In the desert they will collect 100% of the sun's power all day, and there are next 2 no clouds out there.

3, People that buy solar panels have to pay $2k - $4k for the solar meter box. So panels on farms will send power to houses like they do without the solar panel meter box. That means for the price of each house to go green, we will be putting up thousands of dollars more solar panels.

scott ryan said...

Part 2 of comment above

It's based on 23 million people getting a $6k system each. Taking into account, we make 30% more power putting them out in the desert. Takes 30% less time/money + we are putting up $2 - $4k more per house.

As the young use lot's more power, The biggest pop that are old don't. Most pensioners get power bills from $150 - $300 every 3 months. That means they only need $3k worth of solar panels as the $2k meter box is not needed, and will be $2k more solar panels, that makes 30% more power.

The young use much more power than the old. So as the old only need $3k worth. The young will take the other $3k left over and add it to their $6k worth. That means the young will have a $9k system. Once again, remember that, that's $9k worth of solar panels, that don't need a $4k power meter box, and they are making "at least" 30% more power out in the desert. So the young will get a $15+k system.

Now I haven't taken into account that they have just made solar panels that make 34% more power. If we could get them for almost the same price, we would take 30% less time to go green.

It's a "temporary tax" that will make the state government's billions pa without making a GST rise. It will also scrap a gas bill to the public and save us 35 - 50% on power bills.

In 4 years time. The state governments are making billions pa, and the public is saving $1k - $1.7k pa. Small biz will also save 30% off power. That will save them thousands of dollars pa ++++.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Self funding government departments.

Self funding departments, to stop rises in taxes and the cost of living + stopping work pay rising, keeping biz in Australia.

First thing we would do is make the carbon tax permanent, and rise the GST by 2.5% GST rise.

They said the carbon tax made $14 billion pa and a 2.5% GST rise would also make $14 billion pa. We would so this.

We would start to lower the cost to the public to lower work pay and to create mass jobs.

That means we are going to first self fund the public's cost.

If we do the 2 taxes, we will go green within 2 years time, saving the public $1k - $1.7k. Small biz will save $2k - $10k pa.

After 2 years, we will self fund all states water bills like this.

I will show it as Adelaide's water bills, as we pay 3 times more.

Self Funding Adelaide's water bills. Adelaide water company made about $350 million dollars last year.

scott ryan said...

Part 3 of above comment

Adelaide would need $9 billion dollars put into and safe interest fund, to self fund it for life. It works by using the interest made "$540 million dollars pa" to pay for it. It makes more interest than what it cost, so this way we put back in the extra interest money and save it up making interest off the interest. In 5 years time we have put back in $190 million dollars pa "or" $950 million dollars, making 6% pa in 5 years time. Every 5 years the department can have a rise $60 million dollar jump in cost, or $12 million a year.s

That means each year it will make $12 million dollars. It will rise by $12 million every year for life. That's $120 million dollar rise in 10 years. That's like a 33% rise every 10 years.

In Adelaide that will save the public about $1k a year. It will also save small biz big bucks 2.

Other states do pay 3 times less for water, so it will work out the same. Clearly some people will save less to other/states.

The first things we self fund are a cost to all of the public. Pensioners workers people on the doll.

If we did that for 7 years. The public would save about $7 - $7.5k. We have to take off the GST rise so $6k . $6.5. Everyone will at least save $5+k pa.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Now that we have self funded public cost department's saving the public $5 - $7.5k pa. We will start self funding government departments "growth" only.

Growth means we are not going to self fund the entire department, just an amount of money that pays for a decent rise each year in the department's cost.

We would self fund the cheapest departments first. The last 2 will cost the most..police budget and health budget.

It would take 5+ years to self fund all states governments department's, other than hospitals and police budget. Hospitals would take about 8 years to fund.

For instance.
Adelaide main hospital did cost $350 million pa years ago. We would do this.

We would give each of Adelaide main hospitals $6 billion dollars each, in a safe interest fund. That would make interest every year. We would put back in the $180 million dollars interest it makes every year, and the hospitals can have a rise of $22 million every year for life... That's massive.

All of Adelaide's main hospitals are self funded for life at a cost of $18 billion dollars. If $22 million dollar rise each year is too much. We will make them save up the millions over 15 years, so they can expand the hospital size with the money.

The next state would do the same 1 year after.

Adelaide and Tasmania would be done in about 1 year.

WA would be 1 year.

Melbourne Would be 2 years.

Sydney would be 2 years.

Qld would be 2 years.

It may take 25 years to do all this, but we have done so many things and stopped a rise in wages / cost of living and saved $5 - $7.5k pa within 7 years. That means companies don't have to rise wages, keeping companies in au, why other western company's leave their country's.....rising wages.

scott ryan said...

Part 4 of comment above

Fixing and controlling the housing sector.

On the 8th year i would start to build $28 billion dollars worth of houses, to control the price on the market.

After we build them we rent out most of them and put some on the market if the market has F all hoses for sale. That will drop the price of buying a house and will / could lower interest rates as the outlook is ok.....Some Houses for sale. I'm not 2 sure how interest rates work "but" it would control renting and house prices 100%.

The housing market works by how many houses are for sale and being sold. If we build houses, buy some and rent out some. We can control the prices by selling some when there aren't many for sale, or leaving some houses empty to renting prices stay stead but cheap. We will control the price of houses / renting cost / the housing sector.

$14 billion dollars at $800k each will buy $18,000 house. $14 billion at $400k will buy 36,000 houses.

The Australian government would own 54,000 houses renting them out and only putting some on the market if the prices goes up or interest rates.

If we flood the market will drop interest rates and houses priced. If by some we send the price up.

We can even control interest rates / the price of houses.

Nothing hypothetical about this. If you by 18,000 houses and rent them out will the price drop? Yes.

If you build and buy 36,000 houses and flood the market will houses prices drop? Yes.

We don't want the prices to drop. We want them steady for life. Sell some and by some. We do it for 1.5 years of funding. $14 billion in the bank making interest then buying and selling houses to control the prices.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

We have handed the government billions of dollars extra each year, turned green, saved small biz and the public big bucks, that will start mass jobs. If the public saves $6.5k - $5k pa. That means small biz and big biz / the economy will have a jump of $120 - $130 billion pa. That big 10% profit tax and GST. Now when the states pop grows the government gets more taxes with no departments to fund. We have also taken full control of the housing market / interest rates / house prices & lowed the cost of renting a house / cost of living.

I should also add that after 25 years and all state governments are self funded. We can scrap the 2.5% GST rise so we save $6.5 - $8.5k pa now.


If they don't do this, AU will start to crumble. It's the only thing they can do to stop taxes start mass jobs and the other 10 things it does.

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