Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Since its introduction during World War II, the return-based mass income tax has played a central role in defining the average American's relationship with the federal government. In recent years a number of tax reform proposals have featured the elimination of the tax return filing requirement for many or all Americans. Such proposals would save Americans billions of dollars in fees paid to tax return preparers and to providers of return-preparation software, as well as billions of dollars worth of their own time. On the other hand, something valuable would be lost if tax returns were eliminated. The tax return filing requirement has a number of under-appreciated benefits. For example, return-based mass taxation (coupled with inexact withholding) has served as an enduring compromise between small-government proponents and big-government proponents on the important question of how visible and painful taxation should be. For another example, filing a tax return is – or at least has the potential to be – a ceremony of fiscal citizenship, analogous to voting as a ceremony of political citizenship. This presentation will explore some of the pros and cons of the filing requirement.