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Import duties and the Israeli Laffer curve

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legal warning: The information here should not be understood legally as financial advice. If you believe anything on this site is in error, please contact me. I am always open to corrections, new ideas, and new opinions...

If you’re like most Americans, you tell your relatives who send you packages not to declare that anything is new or has a value over $5.  You do this because one time a relative sent you something and the post office held it hostage until you paid some sort of ridiculously large tax/fine/payment that is calculated using what I can only assume is some sort of mixture between random numbers and witchcraft.  Well, a tiny bit of that is about to change.

As of January 30th, Yuval Steinitz signed a reformation of two import taxes.

– No import taxes on anything ordered by the internet up to ₪ 1,200, although you’ll still have to pay 16% for VAT.

– No taxes (even VAT) on personal packages valued at $75 (up from $50).

The first reform is a great piece of legislation that decreases the cost of alternatives and fosters more competition.  The ₪ 1,200 limit means that the increased competition will only affect lower end items, not luxuries.  I would be interested to know why the government chose such a low number (why not, let’s say ₪ 2,000), but I agree with the idea.

The second price of legislation is also a step in the right direction, but is telling of the government’s ignorance of the issue at hand.  When someone does not declare the full value on the package, he is really only giving up the insurance on the package in the case of loss or destruction.  The value of something is what you pay to get it and I am not willing to pay customs duties in order to receive insurance on the package sent.  This legislation is not going to make any difference to me on any packages valued over $75 because the cost of customs is still too much for me to declare the items.

If the government want to both maximize tax revenue and help its citizens, it should analyze how much people would be willing to pay for insurance on packages and lower the import duty to that level.

Ronald Reagan won the 1980 election by using the Laffer curve to prove that he could raise government revenue by reducing certain taxes.  For those who are not economics nerds, the Laffer curve is a curve that shows the relationship between tax revenue and the various possible rates of taxation.  History shows us that his application was entirely incorrect, but the theory stills holds.  It seems that this is one of those very rare cases when tax cuts along the Laffer curve could be very useful.

Do you instruct your relatives declare the value of items that are sent to Israel?  If not, how low would the tax have to drop in order for you to tell them to declare the true value?

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