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A Tax 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 (for example, secessionist movements or revolutionary movements). Taxes are also imposed by many sub national entities. Taxes consist of direct tax or indirect tax, and may be paid in money or as its labor equivalent (often but not always unpaid). A tax may be defined as a "pecuniary burden laid upon individuals or property to support the government a payment exacted by legislative authority." A tax "is not a voluntary payment or donation, but an enforced contribution, exacted pursuant to legislative authority" and is "any contribution imposed by government whether under the name of toll, tribute, tallage, gabel, impost, duty, custom, excise, subsidy, aid, supply, or other name."

In modern 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. The method of taxation and the government expenditure of taxes raised is often highly debated in politics and economics. Tax collection is performed by a government agency such as Canada Revenue Agency, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in the United States, or Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) in the UK. When taxes are not fully paid, civil penalties (such as fines or forfeiture) or criminal penalties (such as incarceration) may be imposed on the non-paying entity or individual.

Purposes and 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 - see also tax exemption), or to modify patterns of consumption or employment within an economy, by making some classes of transaction more or less attractive.

A nation's tax system is often a reflection of its communal values or the values of those in power. To create a system of taxation, a nation must make choices regarding the distribution of the tax burden — who will pay taxes and how much they will pay — and how the taxes collected will be spent. In democratic nations where the public elects those in charge of establishing the tax system, these choices reflect the type of community which the public wishes to create. In countries where the public does not have a significant amount of influence over the system of taxation, that system may be more of a reflection on the values of those in power.

The resource collected from the public through taxation is always greater than the amount which can be used by the government. The difference is called compliance cost, and includes for example the labour cost and other expenses incurred in complying with tax laws and rules. The collection of a tax in order to spend it on a specified purpose, for example collecting a tax on alcohol to pay directly for alcoholism rehabilitation centres, is called hypothecation. This practice is often disliked by finance ministers, since it reduces their freedom of action. Some economic theorists consider the concept to be intellectually dishonest since (in reality) money is fungible. Furthermore, it often happens that taxes or excises initially levied to fund some specific government programs are then later diverted to the government general fund. In some cases, such taxes are collected in fundamentally inefficient ways, for example highway tolls.

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.

The Four "R"s Taxation has four main purposes or effects: Revenue, Redistribution, Repricing, and Representation.

The main purpose is revenue: taxes raise money to spend on roads, schools and hospitals, and on more indirect government functions like market regulation or justice systems. This is the most widely known function.

A second is redistribution. Normally, this means transferring wealth from the richer sections of society to poorer sections. 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.

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.

Proportional, progressive, and regressive

An important feature of tax systems is the percentage of the tax burden as it relates to income or consumption. The terms progressive, regressive, and proportional are used to describe the way the rate progresses from low to high, from high to low, or proportionally. The terms describe a distribution effect, which can be applied to any type of tax system (income or consumption) that meets the definition. A progressive tax is a tax imposed so that the effective tax rate increases as the amount to which the rate is applied increases. The opposite of a progressive tax is a regressive tax, where the effective tax rate decreases as the amount to which the rate is applied increases. In between is a proportional tax, where the effective tax rate is fixed as the amount to which the rate is applied increases. The terms can also be used to apply meaning to the taxation of select consumption, such as a tax on luxury goods and the exemption of basic necessities may be described as having progressive effects as it increases a tax burden on high end consumption and decreases a tax burden on low end consumption.

Direct and indirect

Taxes are sometimes referred to as direct tax or indirect tax. The meaning of these terms can vary in different contexts, which can sometimes lead to confusion. In economics, direct taxes refer to those taxes that are collected from the people or organizations on whom they are ostensibly imposed. For example, income taxes are collected from the person who earns the income. By contrast, indirect taxes are collected from someone other than the person ostensibly responsible for paying the taxes. In law, the terms may have different meanings. In U.S. constitutional law, for instance, direct taxes refer to poll taxes and property taxes, which are based on simple existence or ownership. Indirect taxes are imposed on rights, privileges, and activities. Thus, a tax on the sale of property would be considered an indirect tax, whereas the tax on simply owning the property itself would be a direct tax. The distinction can be subtle between direct and indirect taxation, but can be important under the law.

Tax burden Law establishes from whom a tax is collected. In many countries, taxes are imposed on business (such as corporate taxes or portions of payroll taxes). However, who ultimately pays the tax (the tax "burden") is determined by the marketplace as taxes become embedded into production costs. Depending on how quantities supplied and demanded vary with price (the "elasticities" of supply and demand), a tax can be absorbed by the seller (in the form of lower pre-tax prices), or by the buyer (in the form of higher post-tax prices). If the elasticity of supply is low, more of the tax will be paid by the supplier. If the elasticity of demand is low, more will be paid by the customer. And contrariwise for the cases where those elasticities are high. If the seller is a competitive firm, the tax burden flows back to the factors of production depending on the elasticities thereof; this includes workers (in the form of lower wages), capital investors (in the form of loss to shareholders), landowners (in the form of lower rents) and entrepreneurs (in the form of lower wages of superintendence).

To illustrate this relationship, suppose the market price of a product is US$1.00, and that a $0.50 tax is imposed on the product that, by law, is to be collected from the seller. If the product is a luxury (in the economic sense of the term), a greater portion of the tax will be absorbed by the seller. For example, the seller might drop the price of the product to $0.70 so that, after adding in the tax, the buyer pays a total of $1.20, or $0.20 more than he did before the $0.50 tax was imposed. In this example, the buyer has paid $0.20 of the $0.50 tax (in the form of a post-tax price) and the seller has paid the remaining $0.30 (in the form of a lower pre-tax price).