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Tax Without Cash

By Jeremy Bearer-Friend. Full Text.

This Article documents and evaluates tax obligations paid without cash, referred to as “in-kind tax paying.” Such forms of tax paying include paying federal income taxes by remitting a used flatbed truck to the IRS, paying local property taxes by working a few hours a month answering phones at city hall, and paying state excise taxes by conveying a proportion of all seashells farmed within a state to that state. These are not just hypotheticals, but forms of in-kind tax paying that occur in the United States throughout periods when many taxes are also paid in cash. Nevertheless, despite its long history and prevalence, in-kind tax paying has been underexplored as a viable, and potentially appealing, form of tax remittance.

By providing an original taxonomy of in-kind tax paying within a cash economy, this Article makes three contributions. First, it improves our definition of tax paying by identifying the wide variety of in-kind remittances that occur in our current tax system. Second, it refutes the tacit presumption that in-kind remittance of tax obligations is not viable, thus expanding the tax tools available to local, state, and federal governments and demonstrating how narrow presumptions about tax remittance have predetermined core tax policy choices. Third, it confronts the substantial dangers of in-kind tax paying, using these risks to propose new principles for limiting the design and administration of in-kind tax paying.

This Article concludes that in-kind tax paying is a viable form of tax remittance even within cash economies, in-kind tax paying remains widely in use, and, under some circumstances, elective in-kind tax paying can be preferable to cash tax exclusivity.