Ability To Pay

DEFINITION of 'Ability To Pay'

An economic principle stating that the amount of tax an individual pays should be dependent on the level of burden the tax will create relative to the wealth of the individual. The ability to pay principle suggests that the real amount of tax paid is not the only factor that has to be considered, and that other issues such as ability to pay should also factor into a tax system.

BREAKING DOWN 'Ability To Pay'

The application of this principle is a progressive tax system, in which individuals with higher incomes are asked to pay more tax than individuals with lower incomes. Classical economists like Adam Smith believed any elements of socialism, such as a progressive tax, would destroy the initiative of the population within a free market economy. However, many countries have blended capitalism and socialism with a great degree of success.

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