Countries must overhaul their tax systems to make them fit for the 21st century
If you are a high earner in a rich country and you lack a good accountant,
you probably spend about half the year working for the state.
If you are an average earner, not even an accountant can spare you taxes on your payroll and spending.
Most of the fuss about taxation is over how much the government takes and how often it is wasted.
Too little is about how taxes are raised.
Today’s tax systems are not only marred by the bewildering complexity and loopholes that have always afflicted taxation;
they are also outdated.
That makes them less efficient, more unfair and more likely to conflict with a government’s priorities.
The world needs to remake tax systems so that they are fit for the 21st century.
Jean-Baptiste Colbert, the finance minister of Louis XIV of France, famously compared the art of raising tax to
“plucking the goose so as to obtain the largest possible amount of feathers with the smallest possible amount of hissing”.
Tax systems vary from one economy to another—Europe imposes value-added taxes, America does not.
Yet in most countries three flaws show how the art of plucking has failed.
One is missed opportunities.
Expensive housing, often the result of a shortage of land, has yielded windfall gains to homeowners in big, global cities.
House prices there are 34% higher, on average, than five years ago, freezing young people out of home ownership.
Windfall gains should be an obvious source of revenue,
yet property taxes have stayed roughly constant at 6% of government revenues in rich countries,
the same as before the boom.
Another flaw is that tax sometimes works against other priorities.
Policymakers in the rich world worry about growing inequality, which is at its highest level in half a century.
In the OECD, a group of mostly developed countries, the richest 10% of the population earn, on average, nine times more than the poorest 10%.
Yet over this period, most economies (though not America’s) have shifted the composition of labour taxation slightly toward regressive payroll and social-security levies and away from progressive income taxes.