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The Choice of the Personal Income Tax Base

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  • Roger H. Gordon
  • Wojciech Kopczuk

Abstract

Starting with Vickrey (1945) and Mirrlees (1971), the optimal tax literature has studied the design of a personal income tax. The assumed ideal would be to tax earnings ability. Earnings ability is unobservable for tax purposes, however. Past papers have focused instead on designing a tax on labor income. Existing tax bases, though, depend on a broader range of information about each individual than just labor income. In principle, this supplementary information can help in designing a tax that has more attractive distributional properties, by more closely approximating an ability tax. The objective of this paper is to lay out theoretically and estimate empirically how to make best use of available information about each individual in addition to earnings, in a setting where the first-best tax would be an ability tax. The theory lays out an equity/efficiency trade off when choosing the tax base. In the empirical work, we find the tax base that is best on equity grounds alone. We find that the choice to tax couples based on their joint income, and the inclusion of dividends, interest income, and a dependents' deduction in the tax base in roughly their current form can be rationalized simply based on their value in better approximating an ability tax, without any need for supplementary motivations for these provisions. However, the inclusion of mortgage and property tax payments in the list of itemized deductions cannot be defended on these grounds.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 20227.

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Date of creation: Jun 2014
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:20227

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References

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  1. Alberto Alesina & Andrea Ichino & Loukas Karabarbounis, 2007. "Gender Based Taxation and the Division of Family Chores," NBER Working Papers 13638, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Guy Laroque, 2004. "Indirect Taxation is Superfluous under Separability and Taste Homogeneity : A Simple Proof," Working Papers 2004-23, Centre de Recherche en Economie et Statistique.
  3. Besley, Timothy & Coate, Stephen, 1992. "Workfare versus Welfare Incentive Arguments for Work Requirements in Poverty-Alleviation Programs," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 82(1), pages 249-61, March.
  4. Mirrlees, James A, 1971. "An Exploration in the Theory of Optimum Income Taxation," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 38(114), pages 175-208, April.
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Cited by:
  1. Bas Jacobs, 2013. "From Optimal Tax Theory to Applied Tax Policy," CESifo Working Paper Series 4151, CESifo Group Munich.
  2. Peter Diamond & Johannes Spinnewijn, 2009. "Capital Income Taxes With Heterogeneous Discount Rates," Working Papers, Center for Retirement Research at Boston College wp2009-14, Center for Retirement Research, revised Jun 2009.
  3. Golosov, Mikhail & Troshkin, Maxim & Tsyvinski, Aleh & Weinzierl, Matthew, 2013. "Preference heterogeneity and optimal capital income taxation," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 97(C), pages 160-175.
  4. Bas Jacobs & Robin Boadway, 2013. "Optimal Linear Commodity Taxation under Optimal Non-Linear Income Taxation," CESifo Working Paper Series 4142, CESifo Group Munich.
  5. Jukka Pirttilä & Ilpo Suoniemi, 2010. "Public Provision, Commodity Demand and Hours of Work: An Empirical Analysis," CESifo Working Paper Series 3000, CESifo Group Munich.
  6. Wojciech Kopczuk, 2012. "Taxation of Intergenerational Transfers and Wealth," NBER Working Papers 18584, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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