Would it be feasible to only tax companies (small and large) instead of a personal income tax?
“Would it be feasible to only tax companies (small and large) instead of a personal income tax?”From the standpoint of the government, all that matters is that the government raise enough revenue to fund its operations. The manner in which it does so is not so important.From the standpoint of the economy, the reality that virtually all taxation schemes will favor some sorts of activity and disfavor others, and will have huge effects.It is not possible to simply increase corporate income tax rates so as to allow it to replace the personal income tax. The personal income tax accounts for roughly five times as much revenue as the corporate tax; thus, if we eliminated the personal income tax and increased the corporate tax rates proportionally, the top corporate tax rate would become around 110%, which is absurd. And that’s based on the new 2018 rates, which have yet to be assessed; under the old 2017 rates, the top rate would be in the vicinity of 200%. Clearly, this cannot work.In addition, it would be highly distortive to the economy, grossly disfavoring large traditionally-organized publicly-traded corporations. This is because it would only be business of this type that would be taxed at all; all other business entities would be untaxed at all, except to the extent that they might be owned by a traditionally-organized stock corporation. This is because, at present, the corporate income tax is assessed only only Subchapter C corporations. The vast bulk of businesses—by number if not by revenue or income—in the United States are not organized as Subchapter C corporations. The income of business entities that are not Subchapter C corporations is, in most cases, taxed by passing their income through to their owners (in distributive shares, when there is more than one) and taxing it there. Since most of these organizations are owned by individuals, that means that the business income of these business entities is taxed by the personal income tax code. Thus, a straightforward attempt to simply shift the tax burden from the personal income tax to the corporate income tax would grossly distort the economy by giving certain businesses tax exemption solely on the basis of the manner in which they are organized.In 2015 (the most recent year for which the data is publicly available), US taxpayers reported $7.1 trillion (1040) plus $1.10 trillion (1040A) plus $0.5 trillion (1040EZ) in taxable wages, $0.3 trillion in Schedule C income (income from a sole proprietorship) and $0.7 trillion in Schedule E income (income from Subchapter S corporations and partnerships, as well as royalties and rents). The combination of Schedule C and Schedule E income is a fairly decent first approximation of business income arising from businesses that are not organized as Subchapter C corporations. For 2015, this total was about $1.0 trillion.In 2013, the total income of all corporation that filed any variant of Form 1120, other than passthrough entities, was approximately $1.2 trillion. (Statistics are not yet available for 2015 for this component of US taxation.)What this tells us is that nearly half of all business activity in the US is not subject to the current corporate income tax. Instead, nearly half of taxable business activity is taxed via the personal income tax. Thus, if the goal is to tax businesses generally, clearly the United States would have to institute a business income tax that applies to all business entities and not merely to traditionally-organized corporations.In addition, please note that the total wages in 2015 was about $8.6 trillion. The IRS assessed $1.5 trillion (1040) plus $0.1 trillion (1040A) plus $0.0 trillion (1040EZ) in taxes in 2015 on personal tax returns. In order to get the same $1.6 trillion in revenue from $2.2 trillion in business income requires imposing an average tax rate of about 70%. This would be a ruinously high tax rate. Now, presumably if individuals were no longer taxed on wages, they would accept lower wages for the same work, which would increase pre-tax profitability and thus increase corporate incomes, but estimating this effect is more work than I can be bothered to do right now. I still doubt that it would allow an average business income tax rate below 50%.Such high business income tax rates would be distortive. It’s likely that businesses would take even more steps to minimize taxable income than they currently do, with the current tax rates (21% currently, 39.6% prior to the 2017 tax slash bill). The degree to which they are successful will reduce federal revenues that much more, forcing the federal government to adopt even higher tax rates in order to maintain revenue parity.My conclusion, which you are free to accept or reject, is that, in order to balance the budget, Congress would have no choice but to assess a business receipts tax, an excise tax on wages paid, or a general trade tax (either a sales tax or a value added tax). Business receipts taxation places excessive tax burden on businesses that have high operating or capital costs; a BRT would be the end of American manufacturing unless very carefully structured, and the structuring required to prevent this complicates administration and invites fraud. And both an excise tax on wages (which is really the same as an income tax, just applied indirectly) and general trade taxes will have a disproportionate impact on lower income earners. It’s much easier to structure personal income taxes to provide progressive taxation than it is to do so with these other forms of tax, which is why the US has a progressive income tax and not one of these other forms.Note that before the US had a progressive income tax, it raised most of its revenue from a combination of a wide range of import tariffs and a bevy of domestic excise taxes. These placed a disproportionate burden on the poor, and also made it hard for US producers to find international markets for their products because of retaliatory tariffs. The income tax was introduced to allow the US to reduce its tariff rates, in the hope that other countries would relax their retaliatory tariffs so that American producers could sell their wares internationally. Basically, the income tax (combined with “irrational exuberance”) is what allowed America to explode into the Roaring Twenties, because it made it possible to tear down the restrictive wall of past US tariff policy.