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The Vanishing Bequest Tax: The Comparative Evolution of Bequest Taxation in Historical Perspective

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  • Bertocchi, Graziella

Abstract

Several countries have recently abolished or significantly reduced their taxes on bequests. Bequest taxes, on the other hand, were among the first to be introduced when modern systems of taxation were developed at the end of the nineteenth century. We propose an explanation for these facts which is based on a dynamic political economy model where redistribution is determined not only by wealth inequality but also by sectoral reallocation from agriculture to manufacturing. The model shows that the dynamics of capital accumulation induce a reduction of wealth inequality, which is further accelerated by the redistributive impact of the bequest tax. Through a standard politico-economic mechanism, wealth equalization pushes toward a reduced role of the bequest tax. At the same time, however, a second mechanism is at work, with structural reallocation from agriculture to manufacturing shifting the tax base from hard-to-avoid taxes on land toward easy-to-avoid taxes on capital. The differential treatment of land and capital introduces a source of asymmetry in the tax system which interferes with the determination of the dynamic political equilibrium of the model. Its effect is to compress bequest taxation but also to delay its gradual reduction due to declining wealth inequality. A number of extensions to the basic model allow to match our theory with the long-term evolution of bequest taxation in modern democracies and with the drastic discrepancies currently observed between tax systems in developed and underdeveloped countries.

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Paper provided by C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers in its series CEPR Discussion Papers with number 6115.

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Date of creation: Feb 2007
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Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:6115

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Keywords: bequest tax; redistribution; structural reallocation; voting; wealth inequality;

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Cited by:
  1. Richard Bird, 2008. "Tax Challenges Facing Developing Countries," International Center for Public Policy Working Paper Series, at AYSPS, GSU paper0802, International Center for Public Policy, Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, Georgia State University.
  2. Jappelli, T. & Padula, M. & Pica, G., 2011. "GINI DP 21: Transfer Taxes and Inequality," GINI Discussion Papers 21, AIAS, Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Labour Studies.
  3. Brülhart, Marius & Parchet, Raphaël, 2011. "Alleged Tax Competition: The Mysterious Death of Bequest Taxes in Switzerland," CEPR Discussion Papers 8665, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  4. Marius Brülhart & Raphaël Parchet, 2010. "Alleged Tax Competition: The Mysterious Death of InheritanceTaxes in Switzerland," Cahiers de Recherches Economiques du Département d'Econométrie et d'Economie politique (DEEP) 10.04, Université de Lausanne, Faculté des HEC, DEEP.
  5. José Mª Durán Cabré & Alejandro Esteller Moré, 2007. "An empirical analysis of wealth taxation: Equity Vs.tax compliance," Working Papers XREAP2007-03, Xarxa de Referència en Economia Aplicada (XREAP), revised Jun 2007.
  6. Bas van Bavel & Ewout Frankema, 2013. "Low Income Inequality, High Wealth Inequality.The Puzzle of the Rhineland Welfare States," Working Papers 0050, Utrecht University, Centre for Global Economic History.

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