Originally uploaded in SSRN.


The income tax is technologically very similar to the way it was in its early years, and technological developments have been at the margins of the income tax and have not affected its core elements. Still, technological improvements have made third-party reporting and withholding more efficient, which has allowed these mechanisms to become more pervasively used. Technology has also made it easier for taxpayers to substantiate their activities. These changes have facilitated the evolution of the incometax from its original class tax to the mass tax it is today.

While further technological advances might improve the federal income tax, it could have the opposite effect by paving the way towards its elimination. One particular typeof technology — payment systems — has the potential either to fortify the income tax or to destroy it. Payment systems technology (e.g., electronic payment systems) could eventually shrink the cash economy down to an immaterial size and perhaps even make cash as obsolete as payphones. These developments would fortify the income tax by reducing the large part of the “tax gap” attributable to unreported cash income, which would result in increased fairness and efficiency, greater confidence in the tax system, and improved taxpayer morale. But payment systems technology, instead, could destroy the income tax by easing the transition from the income tax to a consumption tax.

This essay, written for the Florida State University College of Law's symposium on the 100th anniversary of the federal income tax, examines the possible effects that moving to a cashless society would have on the federal tax system.