How do we know whether our tax system is a good one? Adam Smith was one of a long line of philosophers, political theorists and economists to give a list of principles which can be used to assess taxes. Politicians, commissions on taxation and textbook writers turn to such lists to help them decide whether existing taxes, proposed tax changes or a new tax are to be supported. Smith’s list included the principles that people should be taxed ‘in proportion with their respective abilities’, that an individual’s tax liability should be ‘certain, not arbitrary’, that taxes should be convenient to pay, and that costs of collection should be low.
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