Daniel J. Mitchell

I’m either a total optimist or a glutton for punishment. I recently explained the benefits of “tax havens” for the unfriendly readers of the New York Times.

Now I’m defending a different form of tax competition for CNN, another news outlet that leans left. In this case, the topic is whether states can reach beyond their borders for tax revenue.

Here’s some of what I wrote about the so-called Marketplace Fairness Act that was just approved by the Senate and presumably will soon be considered by the House. I start by explaining that the powers of governments should be constrained by borders.

Let’s assume you live in Utah, Hawaii or South Carolina, and you go to Nevada for a vacation. While in Las Vegas, you spend some money in the casinos. Gambling is illegal in the state where you live, so should the cops in your home state be able to track your activities and arrest you for what happened in Nevada? The answer, needless to say, is no. Or at least it should be no. Common sense tells us that state laws should only apply to things that happen inside a state’s borders. But this sensible principle is being tossed out the window by the U.S. Senate, which has approved a proposal that would give states the ability to impose their taxes on out-of-state sellers.

I also explain that this issue isn’t about whether the Internet should be taxed. Indeed, as a fan of the flat tax, I don’t want special favors or special penalties in the tax code. Internet profits and Internet sales should face the same (ideally low) taxes as all other sectors of the economy.

Instead, the fight is really about whether a state government has the right to force out-of-state merchants to act as deputy tax collectors. If you believe that borders should limit the power of governments, the answer is no.

But that rubs politicians the wrong way.


Daniel J. Mitchell

Daniel J. Mitchell is a top expert on tax reform and supply-side tax policy at the Cato Institute.
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