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A Theory of Optimal Capital Taxation

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  • Piketty, Thomas
  • Saez, Emmanuel

Abstract

This paper develops a realistic, tractable normative theory of socially-optimal capital taxation. We present a dynamic model of savings and bequests with heterogeneous random tastes for bequests to children and for wealth per se. We derive formulas for optimal tax rates on capitalized inheritance expressed in terms of estimable parameters and social preferences. The long-run optimal tax rate increases with the aggregate steady-state flow of inheritances to output, decreases with the elasticity of bequests to the net-of-tax rate, and decreases with the strength of preferences for leaving bequests. For realistic parameters, the optimal tax rate on capitalized inheritance should be as high as 50%-60% - or even higher for top wealth holders - if the government has meritocratic preferences (i.e., puts higher welfare weights on those receiving little inheritance) and if capital is highly concentrated (as it is in the real world). In contrast to the Atkinson-Stiglitz result, bequest taxation remains desirable in our model even with optimal labor taxation because inequality is two-dimensional: with inheritances, labor income is no longer the unique determinant of lifetime resources. In contrast to Chamley-Judd, positive capital taxation is desirable because our preferences allow for finite long run elasticities of inheritance to tax rates. Finally, we discuss how capital market imperfections and uninsurable shocks to rates of return can justify shifting one-off inheritance taxation toward lifetime capital taxation, and can account for the actual structure and mix of inheritance and capital taxation.

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Paper provided by C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers in its series CEPR Discussion Papers with number 8946.

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Date of creation: Apr 2012
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Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:8946

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Keywords: optimal taxation;

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  1. Jody Overland & Christopher D. Carroll & David N. Weil, 2000. "Saving and Growth with Habit Formation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(3), pages 341-355, June.
  2. Piketty, Thomas, 1997. "The Dynamics of the Wealth Distribution and the Interest Rate with Credit Rationing," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 64(2), pages 173-89, April.
  3. Nirei, Makoto, 2009. "Pareto Distributions in Economic Growth Models," IIR Working Paper 09-05, Institute of Innovation Research, Hitotsubashi University.
  4. Hopenhayn, Hugo A & Prescott, Edward C, 1992. "Stochastic Monotonicity and Stationary Distributions for Dynamic Economies," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 60(6), pages 1387-406, November.
  5. Milesi-Ferretti, Gian Maria & Roubini, Nouriel, 1998. "Growth Effects of Income and Consumption Taxes," CEPR Discussion Papers 1979, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  6. Stiglitz, Joseph E, 1978. "Notes on Estate Taxes, Redistribution, and the Concept of Balanced Growth Path Incidence," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 86(2), pages S137-50, April.
  7. Thomas Sterner & U. Martin Persson, 2008. "An Even Sterner Review: Introducing Relative Prices into the Discounting Debate," Review of Environmental Economics and Policy, Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 2(1), pages 61-76, Winter.
  8. Andrew B. Abel & N. Gregory Mankiw & Lawrence H. Summers & Richard J. Zeckhauser, 1986. "Assessing Dynamic Efficiency: Theory and Evidence," NBER Working Papers 2097, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Roger Guesnerie, 2004. "Calcul économique et développement durable," Revue économique, Presses de Sciences-Po, vol. 55(3), pages 363-382.
  10. Bourguignon, Francois, 1981. "Pareto Superiority of Unegalitarian Equilibria in Stiglitz' Model of Wealth Distribution with Convex Saving Function," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 49(6), pages 1469-75, November.
  11. Olivier Jean Blanchard & Stanley Fischer, 1989. "Lectures on Macroeconomics," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262022834, December.
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As found by EconAcademics.org, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
  1. Tax capital *and* inheritances
    by Economic Logician in Economic Logic on 2012-05-07 14:55:00
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Cited by:
  1. Justin Svec, 2011. "Optimal Capital Taxation and Consumer Uncertainty," Working Papers 1108, College of the Holy Cross, Department of Economics.
  2. Oliver Denk & Robert P. Hagemann & Patrick Lenain & Valentin Somma, 2013. "Inequality and Poverty in the United States: Public Policies for Inclusive Growth," OECD Economics Department Working Papers 1052, OECD Publishing.
  3. Clausing, Kimberly A., 2013. "Who Pays The Corporate Tax In A Global Economy?," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 66(1), pages 151-84, March.
  4. Alessandro Riboni & Facundo Piguillem, 2011. "Dynamic Bargaining over Redistribution in Legislatures," 2011 Meeting Papers 1320, Society for Economic Dynamics.

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