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Taxation and Inequality: A Time-Exposure Perspective

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  • Joel Slemrod

Abstract

Conclusions about inequality based on cross-sectional snapshots of annual income can give a misleading picture of the inequality of a more permanent notion of income, due to the mobility of individuals across annual income classes. This paper reassesses some of the issues about taxation and inequality using two longitudinal tax return data bases. Replacing annual income with "time-exposure" income, defined as average real income over the period, does not significantly reduce the measured degree of inequality in the 1979-1985 period, although the fraction of income received by the lowest increase substantially. The procedure does, though, reduce the contribution to inequality of certain sources of income such as capital gains and increase the contribution of other sources such as interest and dividends. There is no systematic evidence that the comparison of snapshots between the 1967-1973 and 1979-1985 periods overstates the growth in inequality of a more permanent notion of income. The inequality of pre-tax income has been increasing steadily in the past two decades. Changes in income taxation have neither stemmed nor contributed significantly to this trend; since 1980 the contribution of the income tax to decreasing inequality has declined slightly.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 3999.

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Date of creation: Feb 1992
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Publication status: published as Tax Policy and the Economy J. Poterba ed., Vol. 6, MIT Press 1992
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:3999

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Cited by:
  1. Bargain, Olivier & Dolls, Mathias & Immervoll, Herwig & Neumann, Dirk & Peichl, Andreas & Pestel, Nico & Siegloch, Sebastian, 2011. "Tax Policy and Income Inequality in the U.S., 1978-2009: A Decomposition Approach," IZA Discussion Papers 5910, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  2. Joel Slemrod, 1996. "High-Income Families and the Tax Changes of the 1980s: The Anatomy of Behavioral Response," NBER Chapters, in: Empirical Foundations of Household Taxation, pages 169-192 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Daniel R. Feenberg & Andrew W. Mitrusi & James M. Poterba, 1997. "Distributional Effects of Adopting a National Retail Sales Tax," NBER Chapters, in: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 11, pages 49-90 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Joseph H. Haslag & Lori L. Taylor, 1993. "A look at long-term developments in the distribution of income," Economic and Financial Policy Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, issue Jan, pages 19-30.
  5. Fullerton, Don & Metcalf, Gilbert E., 2002. "Tax incidence," Handbook of Public Economics, in: A. J. Auerbach & M. Feldstein (ed.), Handbook of Public Economics, edition 1, volume 4, chapter 26, pages 1787-1872 Elsevier.
  6. Sara LaLumia & James M. Sallee, 2011. "The Value of Honesty: Empirical Estimates from the Case of the Missing Children," NBER Working Papers 17247, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Joel Slemrod, 1998. "The Economics of Taxing the Rich," NBER Working Papers 6584, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Emmanuel Saez, 1999. "The Effect of Marginal Tax Rates on Income: A Panel Study of 'Bracket Creep'," NBER Working Papers 7367, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. John Bishop & K. Chow & John Formby & Chih-Chin Ho, 1997. "Did Tax Reform Reduce Actual US Progressivity? Evidence from the Taxpayer Compliance Measurement Program," International Tax and Public Finance, Springer, vol. 4(2), pages 177-197, May.
  10. Thomas Otter, 2009. "Does Inequality Harm Income Mobility and Growth? An Assessment of the Growth Impact of Income and Education Inequality in Paraguay 1992-2002," Ibero America Institute for Econ. Research (IAI) Discussion Papers 188, Ibero-America Institute for Economic Research.
  11. Michael Haliassos & Andrew B. Lyon, 1993. "Progressivity of Capital Gains Taxation with Optimal Portfolio Selection," NBER Working Papers 4253, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. Gary Fields, 2010. "Does income mobility equalize longer-term incomes? New measures of an old concept," Journal of Economic Inequality, Springer, vol. 8(4), pages 409-427, December.
  13. Georgia Kaplanoglou, 2004. "Household Consumption Patterns, Indirect Tax Structures and Implications for Indirect Tax Harmonisation - A Three Country Perspective," The Economic and Social Review, Economic and Social Studies, vol. 35(1), pages 83-107.
  14. Otter, Thomas, 2007. "Does Inequality Harm Income Mobility and Growth? An Assessment of the Growth Impact of Income and Education Inequality in Paraguay 1992: 2002," Proceedings of the German Development Economics Conference, Göttingen 2007 25, Verein für Socialpolitik, Research Committee Development Economics.
  15. James B. Davies, 1995. "Distributional Effects of the Lifetime Capital Gains Exemption: Single vs. Multi-Year Analysis," Canadian Public Policy, University of Toronto Press, vol. 21(s1), pages 159-173, November.

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