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The U.S. Consumption Tax: Evolution, Not Revolution
Faculty Scholarship
  • Daniel S. Goldberg, University of Maryland School of Law
Document Type
Publication Date
  • income tax,
  • consumption tax

The article expresses the view that the current Internal Revenue Code has evolved into a hybrid income tax and consumption tax. It begins by explaining the difference between an income tax and a consumption tax and provides the backgrounds of the alternative forms of consumption tax: (1) consumed income, (2) yield exemption, and (3) point-of-sale taxation. Under the consumed income tax model of consumption tax, the individual taxpayer includes all items of income, both from labor and from capital, in its tax base, and then subtracts or deducts the portion of that income that he saves or invests. The resulting amount represents the portion of his income that he has not saved, (i.e., that he has consumed), and is the amount that is subject to tax. In that manner, the consumed income tax would levy the tax directly on consumption, and would be computed and collected at the individual level. A similar end result - taxing consumption, but not savings - can be achieved without allowing a deduction for new saving or investment but rather by permitting the returns from the investment to be exempt from tax instead, regardless of whether they are consumed or saved. Under certain assumptions this yield exemption variation will have the equivalent effect of the consumed income model, which taxes the proceeds from the investment. The article identifies the most important consumption tax provisions of the current Internal Revenue Code, which include the following: (1) the realization requirement, capital gains, dividends, and stepped-up basis at death under section 1014, all constituting either complete or partial yield exemption provisions; (2) retirement plans, which involve consumed income tax provisions because they allow a deduction upon contribution, with the exception of the Roth IRA, which is a yield exemption provision; (3) section 529 education plans, which provide yield exemption for restricted savings dedicated to paying qualified education expenses; (4) homeownership, which entails the yield exemption benefits of non-taxability of imputed income from the use of the home - a benefit similar to the periodic return on the investment in the home - and excludability from income of all or most of the gain on the sale of the home (for most taxpayers), and also involves as a bonus the deductibility of the home mortgage interest, subject to statutory limits, and real property taxes; (5) business tax incentives, allowing a full or partial deduction for expenditures that under income tax principles would otherwise have to be capitalized and depreciated over their useful life. The article reflects on the implications of this evolution in the tax law, including that it may no longer be appropriate to analyze tax provisions under traditional tax expenditure analysis, and concludes that the United States tax system would best be described as an income tax/consumption tax hybrid, with noticeable movement with each set of income tax code amendments to a consumption tax.

57 The Tax Lawyer 1 (2003).
Citation Information
Daniel S. Goldberg. "The U.S. Consumption Tax: Evolution, Not Revolution" (2004)
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