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Tax Reform and Automatic Stabilization

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Abstract

A fundamental property of a progressive income tax is that it provides implicit insurance against shocks to income by dampening the variability of disposable income and consumption. The Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981 (ERTA) in combination with the Tax Reform Act of 1986 (TRA86) greatly reduced the number of marginal tax brackets and the maximum marginal rate, which limits the stabilizing effect of the tax system on household consumption when pre-tax income fluctuates. We examine the effect of the federal income tax reforms of the 1980s on the associated degree of automatic stabilization of consumption. The empirical framework derives from the consumption insurance literature, where the ideal outcome is spatially equal changes in households' marginal utilities of consumption, and permits partial insurance, which we use to identify how the degree of consumption insurance has changed since ERTA and TRA86. Our data come from interview years 1980-1991 in the Panel Study of Income Dynamics. We find that in certain the tax reforms of the 1980s actually increased the automatic stabilization inherent in the United States income tax. Overall, ERTA and TRA86 reduced consumption stability by about 50 percent. More recent tax reforms, most notably increased EITC generosity, have restored or enhanced consumption insurance. A welfare analysis indicates that the cost of moving to the post-TRA86 system is sizable for relatively risk averse households facing large income risk, but is much more modest for the typical household. This paper was revised January 2001.

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Paper provided by Center for Policy Research, Maxwell School, Syracuse University in its series Center for Policy Research Working Papers with number 21.

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Length: 50 pages
Date of creation: Apr 2000
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Handle: RePEc:max:cprwps:21

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Cited by:
  1. Mathias Dolls & Clemens Fuest & Andreas Peichl, 2010. "Automatic Stabilizers and Economic Crisis: US vs. Europe," Cologne Graduate School Working Paper Series 01-02, Cologne Graduate School in Management, Economics and Social Sciences.
  2. Ivan Vidangos, 2009. "Household welfare, precautionary saving, and social insurance under multiple sources of risk," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2009-14, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  3. Alan J. Auerbach, 2002. "Is there a role for discretionary fiscal policy?," Proceedings - Economic Policy Symposium - Jackson Hole, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, pages 109-150.
  4. Julie L. Hotchkiss & Robert E. Moore, 2007. "Assessing the welfare impact of the 2001 tax reform on dual-earner families," Working Paper 2007-27, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.
  5. Thomas Kniesner & W. Viscusi & James Ziliak, 2010. "Policy relevant heterogeneity in the value of statistical life: New evidence from panel data quantile regressions," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 40(1), pages 15-31, February.
  6. Morissette, Rene & Ostrovsky, Yuri, 2008. "How Do Families and Unattached Individuals Respond to Layoffs? Evidence from Canada," Analytical Studies Branch Research Paper Series 2008304e, Statistics Canada, Analytical Studies Branch.
  7. Yang, Juan & Mitchell, Paul D. & Gray, Michael & Steffey, Kevin, 2007. "Unbalanced Nested Component Error Model and the Value of Soil Insecticide and Bt Corn for Controlling Western Corn Rootworm," Staff Paper Series 510, University of Wisconsin, Agricultural and Applied Economics.
  8. Reagan Baughman & Stacy Dickert-Conlin, 2009. "The earned income tax credit and fertility," Journal of Population Economics, Springer, vol. 22(3), pages 537-563, July.
  9. Morissette, Rene & Ostrovsky, Yuri, 2008. "Comment les familles et les personnes seules reagissent-elles aux licenciements? Un eclairage canadien," Direction des etudes analytiques : documents de recherche 2008304f, Statistics Canada, Direction des etudes analytiques.
  10. Torben Andersen, 2005. "Is there a Role for an Active Fiscal Stabilization Policy?," CESifo Working Paper Series 1447, CESifo Group Munich.
  11. Ziliak, James P. & Hardy, Bradley & Bollinger, Christopher, 2011. "Earnings volatility in America: Evidence from matched CPS," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 18(6), pages 742-754.
  12. Morissette, Rene & Ostrovsky, Yuri, 2005. "The Instability of Family Earnings and Family Income in Canada, 1986 to 1991 and 1996 to 2001," Analytical Studies Branch Research Paper Series 2005265e, Statistics Canada, Analytical Studies Branch.

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