Obituary – David Bradford

David Bradford was an advocate of tax simplification and flattened rates, and the author of “Untangling the Income Tax” (Harvard University Press, 1986). His first preference was for a straight consumption tax (VAT or sales tax). Another interesting proposal was a tax only earned income, leaving returns on capital untaxed. The reasoning behind this was that

  • earnings are roughly equivalent to consumption, given a low rate of savings;
  • such a tax could be made politically palatable by allowing some different tax rates;
  • it would eliminate the “tax arbitrage” of the mortgage interest exemption (high-bracket taxpayers pay deductible mortgage interest, some of which is in turn paid to low-bracket taxpayers as taxable income on passbook savings), and
  • it would be easier to administer and harder to evade than a VAT.

Dr. Bradford served in the Ford and Bush 41 administrations. His analysis of the income tax law in effect in the 1970’s led to the extraordinary bracket-flattening of the Tax Reform Act of 1986 during the Reagan administration. Another obituary here.

Update: Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.