The Glossary of Economics Terms defines a sales tax as a "tax levied on the sale of a good or service, which is usually proportional to the price of the good or service sold."
The Two Types of Sales Taxes
Sales taxes come in two varieties. The first is a consumption tax or retail sales tax which is a straight percentage tax placed on the sale of a good. These are the traditional type of sales tax.
The second type of sales tax is a value added tax. On a value-added tax (VAT), the net tax amount is the difference between the input costs and the sales price. If a retailer pays $30 for a good from a wholesaler and charges the customer $40, then the net tax is only placed on the $10 difference. VATs are used in Canada (GST), Australia (GST) and all member countries of the European Union (EU VAT).
Sales Tax - What Advantages Do Sales Taxes Have?
The biggest advantage to sales taxes are how economically efficient they are in collecting a single dollar of revenue for the government - that is, they have the smallest negative impact on the economy per dollar collected.
Sales Tax - Evidence of Advantages
In an article about taxation in Canada a 2002 Fraser Institute study was cited on the "marginal efficiency cost" of various taxes in Canada. They found that per dollar collected, corporate income taxes did $1.55 in damage to the economy. Income taxes were somewhat more efficient in only doing $0.56 worth of damage per dollar collected. Sales taxes, however, came out on top with only $0.17 in economic damage per dollar collected.
Sales Taxes - What Disadvantages Does a Sales Tax Have?
The biggest drawback to sales taxes, in the eyes of many, are that they are a regressive tax - A tax on income in which the proportion of tax paid relative to income decreases as income increases. The regressivity problem can be overcome, if desired, through the use of rebate cheques and tax exemptions on necessities. The Canadian GST uses both of these mechanisms to reduce the regressivity tax.
The FairTax Sales Tax Proposal
Due to the advantages inherent in using sales taxes, it is not surprising that some believe that the United States should base their entire tax system on sales taxes rather than income taxes. The FairTax, if implemented would replace most U.S. taxes with a national sales tax at a 23-percent tax inclusive (equivalent to a 30-percent tax exclusive) rate. Families would also be issued 'prebate' cheques as to eliminate the inherent regressivity of a sales tax system.