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On the Undesirability of Commodity Taxation Even When Income Taxation is Not Optimal

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  • Louis Kaplow

Abstract

An important result due to Atkinson and Stiglitz (1976) is that differential commodity taxation is not optimal in the presence of an optimal nonlinear income tax (given weak separability of utility between labor and all consumption goods). This article demonstrates that their conclusion holds regardless of whether the income tax is optimal. In particular, given any commodity tax and income tax system, differential commodity taxation can be eliminated in a manner that results in a Pareto improvement. Also, differential commodity taxation can be proportionally reduced so as to generate a Pareto improvement. In addition, for commodity tax reforms that do not eliminate or proportionally reduce differential taxation, a simple efficiency condition is offered for determining whether a Pareto improvement is possible.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 10407.

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Date of creation: Apr 2004
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Publication status: published as Kaplow, Louis. "On The Undesirability Of Commodity Taxation Even When Income Taxation Is Not Optimal," Journal of Public Economics, 2006, v90(6-7,Aug), 1235-1250.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:10407

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  1. Saez, Emmanuel, 2004. "Direct or indirect tax instruments for redistribution: short-run versus long-run," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 88(3-4), pages 503-518, March.
  2. J. A. Mirrlees, 1976. "Optimal Tax Theory: A Synthesis," Working papers 176, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
  3. MARCHAND, Maurice & PESTIEAU, Pierre & RACIONERO, Maria, . "Optimal redistribution when different workers are indistinguishable," CORE Discussion Papers RP -1701, Université catholique de Louvain, Center for Operations Research and Econometrics (CORE).
  4. Ordover, J. A. & Phelps, E. S., 1979. "The concept of optimal taxation in the overlapping-generations model of capital and wealth," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 12(1), pages 1-26, August.
  5. CREMER, Helmuth & PESTIEAU, Pierre & ROCHET, Jean-Charles, 1999. "Direct versus indirect taxation: the design of the tax structure revisited," CORE Discussion Papers 1999010, Université catholique de Louvain, Center for Operations Research and Econometrics (CORE).
  6. Naito, Hisahiro, 1999. "Re-examination of uniform commodity taxes under a non-linear income tax system and its implication for production efficiency," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 71(2), pages 165-188, February.
  7. Emmanuel Saez, 2000. "The Desirability of Commodity Taxation under Non-Linear Income Taxation and Heterogeneous Tastes," NBER Working Papers 8029, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Joseph E. Stiglitz, 1987. "Pareto Efficient and Optimal Taxation and the New New Welfare Economics," NBER Working Papers 2189, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Atkinson, A. B. & Stiglitz, J. E., 1976. "The design of tax structure: Direct versus indirect taxation," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 6(1-2), pages 55-75.
  10. Louis Kaplow, 2004. "On the (Ir)Relevance of Distribution and Labor Supply Distortion to Government Policy," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 18(4), pages 159-175, Fall.
  11. Deaton, Angus, 1979. "Optimally uniform commodity taxes," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 2(4), pages 357-361.
  12. Konishi, Hideo, 1995. "A Pareto-improving commodity tax reform under a smooth nonlinear income tax," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 56(3), pages 413-446, March.
  13. Laroque, Guy R., 2005. "Indirect taxation is superfluous under separability and taste homogeneity: a simple proof," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 87(1), pages 141-144, April.
  14. Christiansen, Vidar, 1984. "Which commodity taxes should supplement the income tax?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 24(2), pages 195-220, July.
  15. C. C. Yang & Hans Haller, 1993. "On Directions of Commodity Tax Reform in the Presence of a Given Non-linear Income Tax Schedule," Canadian Journal of Economics, Canadian Economics Association, vol. 26(2), pages 469-80, May.
  16. Hylland, Aanund & Zeckhauser, Richard, 1979. " Distributional Objectives Should Affect Taxes but not Program Choice or Design," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 81(2), pages 264-84.
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