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A Theory of Optimal Capital Taxation

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  • Thomas Piketty
  • Emmanuel Saez

Abstract

This paper develops a realistic, tractable theoretical model that can be used to investigate 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. Under our model assumptions, 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 of our model, the optimal tax rate on capitalized inheritance would be as high as 50%-60%–or even higher for top wealth holders–if the social objective is meritocratic (i.e., the social planner 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, the optimal tax on bequest remains positive 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, the optimal tax on capital is positive in our model because we have finite long run elasticities of inheritance to tax rates. Finally, we discuss how adding capital market imperfections and uninsurable shocks to rates of return to our optimal tax model leads to 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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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 17989.

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Date of creation: Apr 2012
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Publication status: published as "A Theory of Optimal Inheritance Taxation" with Thomas Piketty, Econometrica 81(5), 2013, 1851-1886 (longer version "A Theory of Optimal Capital Taxation", NBER Working Paper No. 17989, April 2012) (Slides) (excel file) (Data and Programs)
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:17989

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  1. 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.
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  3. 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.
  4. Milesi-Ferretti, Gian Maria & Roubini, Nouriel, 1998. "Growth Effects of Income and Consumption Taxes," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 30(4), pages 721-44, November.
  5. Christopher D. Carroll & Jody Overland & David N. Weil, 1995. "Saving and growth with habit formation," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 95-42, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  6. Olivier Jean Blanchard & Stanley Fischer, 1989. "Lectures on Macroeconomics," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262022834, December.
  7. Abel, Andrew B, et al, 1989. "Assessing Dynamic Efficiency: Theory and Evidence," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 56(1), pages 1-19, January.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. Nirei, Makoto, 2009. "Pareto Distributions in Economic Growth Models," IIR Working Paper 09-05, Institute of Innovation Research, Hitotsubashi University.
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  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. 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.
  2. Ryan Chahrour & Justin Svec, 2014. "Optimal Capital Taxation and Consumer Uncertainty," Boston College Working Papers in Economics 854, Boston College Department of Economics.
  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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