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Public Goods, Labor Supply and the Source of Economic Distortions

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Abstract

According to the conventional public finance literature any tax instrument other than the lump-sum tax is inherently distortionary because it alters relative prices. This paper revisits the case of the labor income tax and shows that its supposedly distortionary effects are the result of a stringent assumption about labor supply behavior. The conventional time allocation model generally assumes that taxpayers disregard the marginal benefits of taxation, received in the form of additional public goods, in their labor supply responses to the labor income tax. In line with previous literature stressing the importance of government spending for labor supply behavior, this paper generalizes the traditional model by describing the behavior of taxpayers that consider both the marginal costs and the marginal benefits of the labor income tax. Under these less stringent assumptions the paper derives an efficient (undistorted) solution to the public goods problem, where taxpayers contribute to the public goods in accordance to their individual marginal benefits while the relative value of leisure remains equal to the pre-tax wage rate.

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Paper provided by International Center for Public Policy, Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, Georgia State University in its series International Center for Public Policy Working Paper Series, at AYSPS, GSU with number paper1105.

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Length: 25 pages
Date of creation: 05 Nov 2010
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Handle: RePEc:ays:ispwps:paper1105

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Keywords: public goods; distortion; Lindahl price; labor tax; lump-sum tax; labor supply;

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  1. Richard Blundell & Thomas MaCurdy, 1998. "Labour supply: a review of alternative approaches," IFS Working Papers W98/18, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
  2. Atkinson, Anthony B & Stern, N H, 1974. "Pigou, Taxation and Public Goods," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 41(1), pages 119-28, January.
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