On a completely different note, although it is hard to think about other things during the calamity, tax reform is still ostensibly on the agenda (although I don't expect it to go anywhere). It occurs to me that I haven't previously mentioned one approach that I think deserves more attention than it has gotten: NYC attorney Edward Kleinbard's Business Enterprise Income Tax (BEIT) plan that emphasizes a "cost of capital allowance" (COCA). [Disclosure: he is a friend.]
The key idea in Kleinbard's plan, which he described in a Tax Notes article, dated 1/3/05 [106 Tax Notes 97], that Lexis subscribers can access
here, is to wipe out the debt-equity distinction in the income tax by making all capital that businesses (corporations or not) hold subject to an interest-like deduction, while all holders of such capital have an interest-like inclusion. The Treasury's CBIT plan of some years back would have eliminated the debt-equity distinction in the other logically possible way, by treating everything like equity (i.e., not deductible by the company or includable by the holder). These are the two basic ways to eliminate the problems resulting from the debt-equity distinction.
While the Tax Notes article emphasizes detailed description of the BEIT, casual observers may be more interested in an article prepared by Kleinbard for a forthcoming (September 23) Brookings/Urban Institute conference on taxing capital income, available as a pdf file if you scroll down a bit here. Two key features of this article are as follows. First, Kleinbard offers detailed reasons for preferring his approach to the CBIT approach. Again, the reason for paying attention to this comparison is not just that the CBIT was a prominent plan, but that CBIT and BEIT epitomize the only two logical ways of eliminating the debt-equity distinction while otherwise retaining a business-level income tax (and integrating the corporate and individual levels). But second, and more surprising to me, was Kleinbard's argument that a lot of the problems with the current income tax which make us feel it is unworkable come out of the debt-equity distinction, or more broadly the lack of consistent and coherent rules for taxing financial capital. Kleinbard argues that a business-level income tax actually is reasonably feasible so long as we get this one point right.
Past academic work has tended to emphasize instead the problems caused by the realization requirement, but Kleinbard argues that those problems get significantly less bad under his approach. His position deserves further attention and analysis whether one prefers a workable income tax to a consumption tax or simply thinks that we are stuck with it.