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Tax Shift

How to Help the Economy, Improve the Environment, and Get the Tax Man off Our Backs

by Alan Thein Durning, Yoram Bauman, and Rachel Gusset

Tax Shift
Paperback 300 pages

  • Northwest Environment Watch, 1998; ISBN: 1886093075

List: 9.95


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GreenSense: Right now, we tax things we want, like income and productivity, instead of things we would rather have less of, like pollution and resource depletion. It's especialy ironic that we then have to raise even more tax money to clean up the messes encouraged by our present system. The idea is not to raise or lower taxes, but to shift what is taxed.

The Publisher:

Tax Shift: How to Help the Economy, Improve the Environment, and Get the Tax Man off Our Backs takes on one of the most confusing, yet fundamental, facts of life: paying taxes. This book describes the tangled maze that is our tax system, explains how we got it, and offers a novel way to fix it. Instead of taxing things we want-our paychecks and our businesses-we could tax things we don't want-like pollution and traffic congestion. Tax Shift explains how we can turn our tax system right side up and create a system we can all live with. Before you file your next tax form, read Tax Shift and find out what taxes can do for you.


In general, economics tells us that when you tax something, you get less of it. Our problem is that we tax things we want more of, such as paychecks and enterprise, instead of things we want less of, such as toxic waste and resource depletion. Naturally, we get less money and more messes. Tax Shift is about doing the opposite--removing taxes from "goods" and putting them on "bads." This book is not about raising or lowering taxes overall. Whether you think government is too big, too small, or just right, tax shifting is a revolt that makes sense: it gets taxes off our backs and onto our side...

Dear Reader, merely reading the words tax and policy in the same sentence can cause a person's eyes to glaze. We've tried to keep things interesting, but if your eyes do glaze, just remember what's at stake: the environment, the economy, and--if you're part of an average northwestern household--almost $20,000 in all forms of taxes each year...Read on. A tax shift may save you a bundle...

In economic terms, a tax shift would take taxes off labor and capital and put them on the third factor of production--resources, the gifts of nature. Labor refers to people working. Capital means physical objects created by people, such as buildings, tools, and machinery. The gifts of nature are resources not made by people, such as air, forests, fossil fuels, land, metals, water, a stable climate, and rivers and other habitats. Taxing labor and capital tells businesses and households to scrimp on workers and tools--in other words, to practice underemployment and underinvestment. Taxing the gifts of nature (or, more precisely, taxing actions that degrade the gifts of nature) tells people to conserve these gifts...

Death and Taxes. Air and water pollution and other environmental contaminants killed at least 3,400 people, possibly three times as many, in the Pacific Northwest in 1996. Motor vehicles--the worst air polluters--killed another 1,991 in crashes. (Some 253 of them were pedestrians.) Smoking killed about 21,400. Some 5,800 people died from alcohol consumption.

These figures are based on statistics. We cannot pick out all the victims' names from the list of the 106,923 people--2,248 of them children--who died in the Northwest in 1996. But the best available evidence suggests that 31,800 did die of these less-than-natural causes and that for every person who died, many more were maimed, handicapped, or sickened...

A tax shift that discouraged polluting, driving, smoking, and drinking would have saved some of these lives. So in a way, the existing tax system--by failing to penalize dangerous acts--is implicated in these deaths. Tax policy's sin is one of omission, not commission, but the victims are just as dead. This unexpected collusion of the tax man and the grim reaper adds a sinister new twist to Benjamin Franklin's old observation, "Nothing in this world is certain but death and taxes.


Northwest Environment Watch, one of the most creative think tanks around, has a new publication by Alan Durning and Yoram Bauman, called Tax Shift. Their ideas would improve the environment and the quality of your life. And it seems so obvious: Tax the things we want to discourage instead of the things we want to encourage. Tax things that degrade the environment, such as pollution, and reduce taxes on things like our income...People in the simplicity movement are working to change their own lives, but we must go the next step and work to change policies as well. The first step is to be an informed citizen, so read Durning and Bauman's book.

- Cecile Andrews, The Seattle Times, April 22, 1998





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