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The Capital Levy in Theory and Practice

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  • Barry Eichengreen

Abstract

A capital levy is a one-time tax on all wealth holders with the goal of retiring public debt. This paper reconsiders the historical debate over the capital levy in a contingent capital taxation framework. This shows how in theory the imposition of a levy can be welfare improving when adopted to redress debt problems created by special circumstances, even if its nonrecurrence cannot be guaranteed. If the contingencies in response to which the levy is imposed are fully anticipated, independently verifiable and not under government control, then saving and investment should not fall following the imposition of the levy, nor should the government find it more difficult to raise revenues subsequently. In practice, serious problems stand in the way of implementation. A capital levy has profound distribution consequences. Property owners are sure to resist its adoption. In a democratic society, their objections are guaranteed to cause delay. This provides an opportunity for capital flight, reducing the prospective yield, and allows the special circumstances providing the justification for the levy to recede in the past. The only successful levies occur in cases like post-World War II Japan, where important elements of the democratic process are suppressed and where the fact that the levy was imposed by an outside power minimized the negative impact on the reputation of subsequent sovereign governments.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 3096.

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Date of creation: Oct 1991
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Publication status: published as Public Debt Management: Theory and History, edited by Dornbusch and Dreghi , pp. 191-220. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:3096

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  1. Herschel I. Grossman, 1990. "The Political Economy of War Debts and Inflation," NBER Working Papers 2743, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Henry Shavell, 1948. "Postwar Taxation in Japan," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 56, pages 124.
  3. Alberto Alesina, 1988. "Macroeconomics and Politics," NBER Chapters, in: NBER Macroeconomics Annual 1988, Volume 3, pages 13-62 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. V.V. Chari, 1988. "Time consistency and optimal policy design," Quarterly Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, issue Fall, pages 17-31.
  5. Grossman, Herschel I & Van Huyck, John B, 1988. "Sovereign Debt as a Contingent Claim: Excusable Default, Repudiation, and Reputation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 78(5), pages 1088-97, December.
  6. V. V. Chari & Patrick J Kehoe, 1998. "Sustainable Plans," Levine's Working Paper Archive 600, David K. Levine.
  7. Abreu, Dilip, 1988. "On the Theory of Infinitely Repeated Games with Discounting," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 56(2), pages 383-96, March.
  8. Thomas J. Sargent, 1982. "The Ends of Four Big Inflations," NBER Chapters, in: Inflation: Causes and Effects, pages 41-98 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Fischer, Stanley, 1980. "Dynamic inconsistency, cooperation and the benevolent dissembling government," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 2(1), pages 93-107, May.
  10. Prescott, Edward C., 1977. "Should control theory be used for economic stabilization?," Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 7(1), pages 13-38, January.
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As found by EconAcademics.org, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
  1. Why Wealth Taxes Are Not Enough
    by Kenneth Rogoff in Project Syndicate on 2013-11-04 15:51:59
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Cited by:
  1. Michael D. Bordo & Pierre-Cyrille Hautcoeur, 2003. "Why didn't France follow the British Stabilization after World War One?," NBER Working Papers 9860, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Alberto Alesina & Allan Drazen, 1989. "Why are Stabilizations Delayed?," NBER Working Papers 3053, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Giovannini, Alberto & Hines Jr, James R, 1990. "Capital Flight and Tax Competition: Are there Viable Solutions to Both Problems," CEPR Discussion Papers 416, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  4. Louis Kaplow, 2006. "Capital Levies and Transition to a Consumption Tax," NBER Working Papers 12259, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Mario Sarcinelli, 2012. "Euro crisis or public debt crisis? With a remedy for the latter case," PSL Quarterly Review, Economia civile, vol. 65(262), pages 215-236.
  6. Nicolas Marceau & Michael Smart, 2000. "Business Tax Lobbying," Cahiers de recherche CREFE / CREFE Working Papers 102, CREFE, Université du Québec à Montréal.

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  1. Capital levy in Wikipedia (English)

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