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A tax (also known as a "duty") is a financial charge or other levy imposed on an individual or a legal entity by a state or a functional equivalent of a state (e.g. tribes, seces­sionist movements, or revolutionary movements). Taxes could also be imposed by a sub national entity.

Taxes may be paid in money or as corvée labor. In modern, capitalist taxation systems, taxes are levied in money, but in-kind and corvée taxation is characteristic of traditional or pre-capitalist states and their functional equivalents.

Taxes are sometimes referred to as direct tax or indirect tax. Direct taxes are collected by the government from the income of individuals and businesses. Indirect taxes are levied on the production or sale of goods and services. They are included in the price paid by the final purchaser.

An important feature of tax systems is whether they are proportional tax (the tax as a percentage of income is constant over all income levels), progressive tax (the tax as a per­centage of income rises as income rises), or regressive tax (the tax as a percentage of income falls as income rises). Progressive taxes reduce the tax incidence of people with smaller incomes, as they shift the incidence disproportionately to those with higher incomes.

Taxation has four main purposes or effects: revenue, redistribution, repricing, and representation.

The main purpose is revenue: taxes provide the public authorities with the revenue re­quired for meeting the costs of defense, social services, interest payment on the national debt, municipal services, etc. This is the most widely known function.

A second is redistribution. Normally, this means transferring Wealth from the richest sec­tions of society to poorer sections, and this function is widely accepted in most democracies, although the extent to which this should happen is always controversial.

A third purpose of taxation is repricing. Taxes are levied to address externalities: tobacco is taxed, for example, to discourage smoking, and many people advocate policies such as implementing a carbon tax as a way of tackling global warming.

A fourth, consequential effect of taxation in its historical setting has been representation. The American revolutionary slogan "no taxation without representation" implied this: rulers tax citizens, and citizens demand accountability from their rulers as the other part of this bargain. Several studies have shown that direct taxation (such as income taxes) generates the greatest degree of accountability and better governance, while indirect taxation tends to have smaller effects.

Funds provided by taxation have been used by states and their functional equivalents throughout history to carry out many functions. Some of these include expenditures on war, the enforcement of law and public order, protection of property, economic infrastructure (roads, legal tender, enforcement of contracts, etc.), public works, social engineering, and the operation of government itself. Most modern governments also use taxes to fund welfare and public services. These services can include education systems, health care systems, pensions for the elderly, unemployment benefits, and public transportation. Energy, water and waste management systems are also common public utilities. Colonial and moderning states have also used cash taxes to draw or force reluctant subsistence producers into cash economies.

Governments use different kinds of taxes and vary the tax rates. This is done to dis­tribute the tax burden among individuals or classes of the population involved in taxable activities, such as business, or to redistribute resources between individuals or classes in the population. Historically, the nobility were supported by taxes on the poor; modern social security systems are intended to support the poor, the disabled, or the retired by taxes on those who are still working. In addition, taxes are applied to fund foreign and military aid, to influence the macroeconomic performance of the economy (the government's strategy for doing this is called its fiscal policy, or to modify patterns of consumption or employment within an economy, by making some classes of transaction more or less attractive.

Some economists, especially neo-classical economists, argue that all taxation creates market distortion and results in economic inefficiency. They have therefore sought to identify the kind of tax system that would minimize this distortion. Also, one of every government's most fundamental duties is to administer possession and use of land in the geographic area over which it is sovereign, and it is considered economically efficient for government to re­cover for public purposes the additional value it creates by providing this unique service.

Since governments also resolve commercial disputes, especially in countries with com­mon law, similar arguments are sometimes used to justify a sales tax or value added tax. Others (e.g. libertarians) argue that most or all forms of taxes are immoral due to their involuntary (and therefore eventually coercive/violent) nature. The most extreme anti-tax view is anarcho-capitalism, in which the provision of all social services should be a matter of voluntary private contracts.


1. Match each of the words with the correct explanation on the right:

1. tax a. the amount of tax people have to pay

2. indirect tax b. useful services for public

3. tax incidence c. compulsory charge levied by a government

for the purpose of financing services

performed for the common benefit

4. consumption d. the condition or quantity of being


5. direct tax e. wellbeing

6. accountability f. to provide money for

7. public utilities g. the amount of tax payable, expressed as a

percentage of the assessed value of land,

interest in land, or improvement

8. tax rate h. tax levied on the production or sale of goods

and services

9. to fund i. using up, especially in large amounts

10. welfare j. tax collected by the government from the

income of individuals and businesses

2. Complete the sentences by inserting the words in the gaps:


repricing, welfare, rates, levied, charge, incidence, labor, efficiency


1. A tax is a financial... imposed on an individual or a legal entity by a state.

2. Taxes may be paid in money or as a ... labor.

3. Indirect taxes are ... on the production or sale of goods and


4. Progressive taxes reduce the tax ... of people with smaller incomes.

5. Taxation has four main purposes or effects: revenue,

redistribution, ..., and represen­tation.

6. Most modern governments use taxes to fund ... and public services.

7. Governments use different kinds of taxes and vary the tax....

8. Some economists argue that taxation results in economic ....

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