The conditions just considered, which make the shifting of taxes possible, are scarcely applicable to some taxes, while they are easily applied in the case of others. General poll and income taxes furnish good examples of those which cannot be shifted, because of the applicability of the laws of price.
General Poll Tax. - Poll and income taxes are more closely connected with personality than are any other forms of taxation. There is no possibility of a general poll tax changing the price of something used by some one else, so as to make him bear the burden. The burden of a general poll tax of $10 upon every person over twenty-one years old would fall on the individuals of that class. It may be necessary to expend more energy in order to get funds to meet the tax, or the tax may be evaded, as is the case of many of the poll taxes in the Southern states, but this does not shift the burden.
It is conceivable, however, that a general poll tax could be made so burdensome as to postpone the age of marriage and materially reduce the size of families. The long-time effect, therefore, might be to lessen the supply of labor relative to the demand, and cause a shifting of the tax to the extent that a decrease in numbers, due to the tax, caused a higher wage. In this case a greater burden would be placed upon employers because of the tax.
Local Poll Tax. - The immediate effect of a poll tax levied by a particular community differs materially from a general poll tax in its possibility of being shifted. Suppose one county in western Pennsylvania would levy an annual poll tax of $100 upon every male person over twenty-one years old, while the adjoining counties had no such tax. Laborers would leave the county with the tax to seek employment where the tax system was less burdensome. This decrease in labor would mean an increase in wage to those who remained. The tax will have been shifted to the employer to the extent of the wage increase.
Income Taxes. - The possibility of shifting income taxes follows practically the same reasoning as for poll taxes. A general, proportional income tax would hardly be shifted. An individual would not cease to get an income because it were taxed, neither would he gain by going to another locality or occupation where the tax conditions were the same. If the tax were large enough to be burdensome it might, over a period of time, have the same effect as a burdensome poll tax in reducing numbers. This reduction in the size of the family in order to maintain a certain standard of living, will result in higher wages than would otherwise exist. The price of labor has gone up because of a tax, and the tax has been shifted to the extent of the wage increase.
Where rates vary for different communities there is likely to be a readjustment of the labor supply, with a shifting of the tax to the extent of increased wages due to the readjustment. Shifting might also take place if incomes from one occupation were taxed more heavily than incomes from another. Suppose that, under the police power, the income of teachers should be made exempt from taxes while no exemption were made for book-keepers and stenographers. This would make teaching more desirable and the other occupations less desirable. The number of bookkeepers and stenographers would decrease, with a corresponding higher wage to those remaining. In so far as this would be true, the tax would be shifted to the extent of the increased wage. These cases are mere possibilities, and as a general proposition neither general poll nor income taxes can be shifted.