Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Purpose of Taxes

The story of taxation usually goes like this:  You earn your dollars, then give some portion of it to the government.  The government then takes your money and buys tanks, builds roads, and gives food to the poor.  For local and state governments, that is a true story.  However, for the federal government, which creates the currency, this story remains just that: A story.  Despite what most people in Washington believe, the government doesn't need your tax dollars to fund it's activities.  Since the federal government can create money at will, then how does it make sense to say that it needs your taxes to fund all the things that it does?  Obviously, it doesn't.  So what is the purpose of taxation? The purpose is two-fold:  To control inflation and maintain demand for the currency.

Taxes are needed to regulate inflation.

Since you already know that government spending is constrained by inflation, not revenue, then this should make sense.  If everything else were to remain equal, then taxes would always have to rise with spending to regulate inflation.  If the government kept injecting large amounts of spending without taxation you would eventually see inflation.  However, there are several reasons that inflation and budget deficits don't always correlate.

There are many reasons that they do not always correlate.  A high savings rate is a good example.  If people are saving dollars instead of buying items it can cause deflation.   Another is fluctuations in foreign exchange markets.  In fact, we are currently living in an age of astronomical budget deficits, and yet we are still seeing very low inflation.

The other reason for federal taxes is to maintain demand for the currency.

Once a currency has already been established, this reason isn't as obvious.  To understand this concept you we must go back to the launch of a brand new currency.  Let's say Ireland decided to dump the Euro and create a new currency called 'quid'.  The Irish government would make a bunch of quid and then try to use it hire someone to sweep the streets of Dublin.  What they would find is that no one was willing to word for quids, no matter how many were offered because everyone would still be using Euros.

Ireland finds that it must artificially create a demand for quid.  They do this by declaring that all taxes must be paid in quid.  Suddenly, people need quid.  People are now willing to work for the government in exchange for quid.  They can make the quid they need to pay their taxes and then sell their excess quid to people who don't work for the government, but must still pay their taxes in quid.  In exchange for their quid, the workers could get Euro's(an example of a foreign exchange market) or goods and services(a plain old money transaction).  The amount of Euro's and goods they get for their quid is negotiated by the market.  After a time the currency will take hold and the Irish government will find it can pay for anything it wants in quid.  As long as people MUST pay their taxes using quid, there will be a demand for quid.

Upon reading this I hope that you come away with a better idea of what taxes are really used for.  Most people believe that the federal government must tax people to fund itself.  When you point out that's silly because the government can create money at will, many people will start to think you're suggesting doing away with all taxation(which would be equally silly).  That's why it's important to know and to explain to others the purpose of taxes:  Regulate inflation, and maintain the currency.
Leave a Comment