Today we want to recognize an important first step in re-shaping economic thinking so significantly that reducing or eliminating the national debt could be done easily, a concept so brilliant that—if appropriately expanded—could merit international recognition.
The tax bill recently approved by the House of Representatives in Washington proposes to tax graduate student tuition waivers. For those of us who never got far enough in our higher education to be offered those waivers or who came along before they were widespread in higher education, here’s how they work:
A University tells a student pursuing a master’s degree or a doctorate they will not have to pay tuition if they help teach or do research beneficial to the university. The university pays those students a small stipend for their work so they can eat and pay their rent.
The House bill wants to consider the tuition waiver as income. And to tax it.
It is a matter of considering money a person never has and does not spend as income and then levying an income tax on those never-had and unspent funds. Think of the possibilities!
Paying a tax on the raise you did not get could provide millions of deficit-reducing dollars to the federal government. Paying a tax on a stock dividend that did not materialize would add even more. Considering the difference between what you wanted on a car trade-in and what the dealer gave you as income and taxing that amount would add to the deficit-reducing federal income.
Here’s one we thought of the other day when we went to Columbia where the gas price that day was nineteen cents less per gallon than the price in Jefferson City. We used our grocery store gas rewards card to knock another forty cents a gallon off of the fuel we put in our tank. Think how much the federal government could collect if it considered supermarket gas refunds as part of our personal income.
Soon the pre-holiday price reductions we are seeing in our stores will give way to the post-holiday sales prices. If Congress were to take the simple step of taxing the hundreds of millions of dollars that are not spent because of those pre-and-post-holiday price reductions, the annual federal deficit could be eliminated and bites could be taken out of the total national debt.
The car companies are offering multi-thousand dollar incentives to clear their lots of 2017 models. If Congress were to consider those price reductions as income and tax it, another important debt-reduction step could be taken.
Think of how much money is saved every single day by people who shop at the day-old bread counter at the grocery store. It might seem like pennies for each loaf, but when applied nationally and for an entire year, taxing the savings on all of those loaves of day-old bread will add up to millions of dollars a year in tax collections.
Oh, and here’s a biggie. An industry that decides to build a factory, a warehouse, or any other facility in a foreign country instead of in the United States because it can save millions of dollars in construction and operation costs: If those savings were considered corporate income and taxed—even at the proposed lowered corporate tax rate—the economic benefit would be enormous.
And—oh, wait, there’s one more and it’s particularly appropriate at this time of year. Further, it’s pretty comparable to the tuition waiver. We are awash in online and catalog offers to provide customers with a benefit if the customer provides something of value to the merchant in return for which the merchant waives a fee or charge. Give us money, says the merchant, and we will give you a sweater but we will waive the shipping charge. Since the customer receives the benefit–a sweater—but spends no money to receive it, the shipping charge is thus income and can be taxed as such, just as a graduate student receives a benefit—an education—by providing something of value to the university (teaching or research assistance) but does not pay the equivalent of a “shipping charge” to get it and therefore faces paying income taxes on money never possessed or spent.
Think of the incredible benefits this economic philosophy of turning unspent dollars into taxable income could provide if applied widely, assuming the federal government doesn’t just increase spending to or beyond the amount of additional funds it would collect. Congress could wipe out the national deficit and it could provide billions of dollars that could trickle down throughout America in programs and services beneficial to the poor, the hungry, the sick.
And to graduate students.
We’ll be watching for next year’s announcement of the Nobel Prize for Economics to see if this great advance is deservedly rewarded.