Friday, February 19, 2021
There is a panel on Taxation and Tech at 11:15 am–12:45 pm ET today at the Inframarginalism and Internet virtual conference at Kentucky:
Taxation is an underexplored remedy for Big Tech and tech is an underexplored remedy for tax. Consider first concerns about Big Tech. Many tech firms barter with their customers, supplying services to customers in exchange for their data—or attention—instead of their cash. That has stymied antitrust, which has traditionally viewed monopoly power as the power profitably to increase a cash price. But tax knows barter, and can more clearly see the bartering of personal data for services as a regulable transaction. What is more, taxation would seem to address more directly than antitrust the root of concerns regarding Big Tech—concerns that Big Tech’s ability to extract rents contributes to inequality of wealth—while at the same avoiding the cost and inefficiencies associated with antitrust remedies like breakup. Or does it? And what do the first civilizations, which arose to govern networks in a barter economy, have to teach us about the answer to this question? On the other side of the ledger, tech is swiftly making possible modes of taxation that were once merely theoretical abstractions. It is a small step from a world in which private firms know everything about you and use that information to impose private taxes on your every purchase to a world in which the government knows enough about your every purchase to replace (or supplement) the income tax system with a personalized consumption tax system. But should we do it?