EQUITY IN THE FEDERAL TAXATION OF INDIVIDUALS' GAINS AND LOSSES FROM TRANSACTIONS IN ASSETS DURING A PERIOD OF INFLATION
AuthorSayre, Julian Richard
KeywordsCapital gains tax -- United States.
Inflation (Finance) -- Effect of taxation on.
Taxation -- Law and legislation -- United States.
Income tax -- United States.
AdvisorDixon, Hollis A.
Foster, Taylor W. III
MetadataShow full item record
PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractInflation, especially recently, has distorted the nominal historical-cost measurement of gains and losses from transactions in assets. This distortion has exacerbated the existing controversy over the federal taxation of such gains and losses realized by individuals. The main purpose of the study was to examine the equity of actual and proposed methods respecting such taxation in view of these inflation distortions. Particularly, the study investigated how the applicable law, as it was in the immediate past (1977 Law), as it is now (1979 Law), and as many have proposed that it should be (the Reform Plan), compared under the traditional ability-to-pay theory of equity. The Reform Plan combines two current and popular tax reform proposals, the comprehensive income tax and indexing. As it was interpreted and applied in this study, gains and losses from transactions in assets were fully included in income, after they were indexed for inflation. Indexing consists of multiplying the historical cost of an asset by the ratio of some price index (herein the CPI) at the time of disposition to the index at the time of acquisition. Subtracting the result from the disposition price gives a gain or loss measured in real, inflation-adjusted terms. The comparisons of the three taxing methods were based upon historical tax-return data of 224 individual taxpayers for 1970-1977. The non-random manner in which the taxpayers were selected precludes the results and conclusions of the study from being statistically extended to the population of U.S. taxpayers. Significantly, however, the tax characteristics of the selected taxpayers indicated that they were more sensitive to effects of inflation than their national counterparts. Provisions of 1979 Law and the Reform Plan were simulated on the historical data, resulting in recomputed incomes and tax liabilities. The historical and recomputed incomes and taxes were then averaged by taxpayer over the eight years. These averages gave better approximations of the normal financial status of the taxpayers than single-year data. Data generated in the Reform Plan simulation indicated that the selected taxpayers' historical gains and losses were substantially distorted by inflation. Moreover, the proportional effects of inflation decreased as taxpayers' income increased. These findings were fully consistent with two published studies. Various procedures measured and compared the horizontal equities and vertical equities (progressivities) of the three disparite taxing methods. None of them exhibited any clear, unambiguous superior ratings. The Reform Plan was only slightly more horizontally equitable and only slightly more progressive than 1977 Law; 1979 Law ranked last in both analyses, but by small margins. Importantly, under all three methods, progressivity was maintained at higher income levels, but only when income was defined in real terms. When income was defined in nominal terms, a marked decrease in progressivity was manifested. This finding suggests that the appearance at these levels of reduced progressivity, and hence of reduced vertical equity, may be an illusion. Given the above findings, perhaps too much historical emphasis has been placed on the equity benchmark in evaluating the taxation of individuals' gains and losses from transactions in assets. If so, then other judgmental criteria would seem to take on relatively greater importance. Four such criteria deemed pertinent were neutrality, simplicity, mitigation of the "lock-in effect" and stimulation of capital information. The Reform Plan appeared to be more neutral than either 1977 or 1979 Law. Whether it is simpler is questionable. Probably less unrealized gains would be locked-in under the Reform Plan. However, with respect to capital formation, considerable theoretical disagreement precluded a conclusion as to which taxing method would be more stimulative.
Degree ProgramGraduate College