March 20, 2018 

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MARGINAL TAX RATE: A tax rate that is the percentage of an incremental change in the tax base paid in taxes. Comparable to any marginal, this is the change in total taxes collected or paid divided by the change in the total value of the tax base. For example, if a person has a $10,000 increase in earnings from $40,000 to $50,000 and income taxes increase by $2,000 from $3,000 to $5,000 in taxes, then the marginal income tax rate is 20 percent. The contrasting term is average tax rate.

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A tax specified as a percentage of the quantity of a good, service, asset, or other activity. Per unit taxes are often imposed on specific goods or markets. A common per unit tax is that levied on gasoline. People pay a given tax for each gallon of gasoline purchased, regardless of the price of gasoline. An alternative is an ad valorem tax, with is a tax specified as a percentage of the value or price of a good.
A per unit tax is a tax in which the tax base is specified as a physical quantity rather than a dollar value. If, for example, the federal government places a per unit tax of 10 cents on gasoline, then buyers and/or sellers are responsible for paying an extra 10 cents on each gallon sold, regardless of the price.

If you buy 10 gallons of gasoline for your small compact car, then the federal government collects a total tax of $1 (10 cents x 10 gallons). If your close friends buys 20 gallons for a larger SUV, then the then the federal government collects a total tax of $2 (10 cents x 20 gallons). It matters not that you paid $3 a gallon and your friend paid only $2.50.

This type of tax can be illustrated using the following tax calculation equation. The total tax collected is the product of the tax rate and the tax base. A per unit tax exists if the tax base is specified as a physical quantity. In the previous example, the tax rate is the per unit tax of 10 cents per gallon of gasoline and the tax base is the quantity of gasoline, the number of gallons sold.

tax=tax basextax rate
Per unit taxes are generally applied to specific goods, services, or other activities, usually for very specific reasons. A common reason is to invoke the allocation effect as a means of discouraging the production, consumption, or exchange of the particular commodity.

For example, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency might impose a per unit tax on sulfur dioxide emissions from coal fire power plants as a means of discouraging pollution. Fewer emissions mean fewer taxes. In this case, the value of the emissions is not particularly relevant, only the total quantity.

An alternative type of tax is an ad valorem tax, in which the tax base is specified as a dollar value. An ad valorem tax, in contrast to a per unit tax, depends on price. A higher price means a higher tax.


Recommended Citation:

PER UNIT TAX, AmosWEB Encyclonomic WEB*pedia,, AmosWEB LLC, 2000-2018. [Accessed: March 20, 2018].

Check Out These Related Terms...

     | taxation principles | ad valorem tax | tax effects | revenue effect | allocation effect | tax equity | ability-to-pay principle | benefit principle | horizontal equity | vertical equity | tax proportionality | proportional tax | progressive tax | regressive tax | tax efficiency | tax incidence | tax wedge | deadweight loss |

Or For A Little Background...

     | taxes | government functions | efficiency | equity | distribution standards | public finance | allocation |

And For Further Study...

     | public choice | good types | market failures | public goods: demand | public goods: efficiency | tax multiplier | personal tax and nontax payments | transfer payments |

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