taxation

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

taxation

taxation, system used by governments to obtain money from people and organizations. The revenue collected is used by the government to support itself and to provide public services. Aside from being relatively permanent, taxation is compulsory and does not guarantee a direct relationship between the amount contributed by a citizen and the extent of governmental services provided to him. An enforced levy to meet an emergency (e.g., capital levy) is distinguished from taxation as not being part of a long-term system; fees for special services, such as postage, are not taxes. A government may secure its revenue without taxation, as from natural resources, manufactured products, or services. Taxes are sometimes resisted when those who must pay them consider them too onerous or unfair; such resistance was one of the causes of the American Revolution. Ease of collection is considered a merit in a tax, and ability to pay is one test of the amount that an individual should contribute. Such a progressive levy is the U.S. inheritance tax. A general property tax formerly met requirements in the United States satisfactorily (see land tax); but as property increasingly assumed forms that escaped taxation, the burden on farms, once the usual form of property, became more than they could carry. A tax on luxuries is free in part from such an objection, although a luxury to one person may be a necessity to another. A modern variation of the sales tax is the value-added tax. Tariff duties have occasioned great debates on protection and free trade. Increasing use has been made of the graduated income tax. Excise taxes, as on tobacco and alcoholic beverages, encounter little resistance; when too high, however, they may encourage bootlegging. A single tax on land is advocated by the followers of Henry George. Increases or decreases in taxes or changes in the types of taxes levied are often used to regulate a nation's economy. See tax exemption.

See Dick Netzer, Economics of the Property Tax (1966); J. F. Due, Government Finance (4th ed. 1968); C. S. Shoup, Public Finance (1969); H. M. Groves, Financing Government (7th ed. 1973); C. Webber and A. Wildavsky, A History of Taxation and Expenditure in the Western World (1987).

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