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Do Taxes Matter? Lessons From the 1980s

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  • Joel Slemrod

Abstract

The response of the economy to two major -- although in important respects offsetting -- tax reforms has been much smaller than ardent supply-side revolutionaries expected, thus suggesting that a reassessment of the grounds for revolt is in order. This paper offers such a reassessment by first discussing how the evidence from the tax reforms of 1981 and 1986 reflects on our understanding of the response to taxation -- with particular reference to savings and capital gains realizations. I then reconstruct a 1992 view about how taxes affect behavior. A unifying theme is that the tax system does much more than alter the relative prices of real variables -- it also provides incentives to misreport income, restructure financial claims, time transactions, change the legal form of organization, and so on. For this reason, observed low tax elasticities of real variables may be due to either low elasticities of substitution or the fact that tax policy changes opportunity sets in complex ways. Disentangling these explanations requires an emphasis on the transaction-based nature of the tax system and the administration and enforcement of tax laws.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 4008.

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Date of creation: Mar 1992
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Publication status: published as American Economic Review, Volume 82, Number 2, pp. 250-6, May 1992
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:4008

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  1. Auten, Gerald E & Clotfelter, Charles T, 1982. "Permanent versus Transitory Tax Effects and the Realization of Capital Gains," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 97(4), pages 613-32, November.
  2. Slemrod, Joel, 1990. "Optimal Taxation and Optimal Tax Systems," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 4(1), pages 157-78, Winter.
  3. Martin Feldstein, 1983. "Inflation, Tax Rules, and Investment: Some Econometric Evidence," NBER Chapters, in: Inflation, Tax Rules, and Capital Formation, pages 243-286 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Douglas Holtz-Eakin & Harvey S . Rosen, 1988. "Tax Deductibility and Municipal Budget Structure," NBER Chapters, in: Fiscal Federalism: Quantitative Studies, pages 107-136 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Feldstein, Martin & Slemrod, Joel & Yitzhaki, Shlomo, 1980. "The Effects of Taxation on the Selling of Corporate Stock and the Realization of Capital Gains," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 94(4), pages 777-91, June.
  6. Brunner, Karl & Meltzer, Allan H., 1976. "The Phillips curve," Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 1(1), pages 1-18, January.
  7. Lucas, Robert Jr, 1976. "Econometric policy evaluation: A critique," Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 1(1), pages 19-46, January.
  8. Hall, Robert E, 1988. "Intertemporal Substitution in Consumption," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 96(2), pages 339-57, April.
  9. Alan J. Auerbach, 1988. "Capital Gains Taxation in the United States: Realizations, Revenue, and Rhetoric," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 19(2), pages 595-638.
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Cited by:
  1. Raj Chetty, 2009. "Is the Taxable Income Elasticity Sufficient to Calculate Deadweight Loss? The Implications of Evasion and Avoidance," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 1(2), pages 31-52, August.
  2. Carola Frydman & Raven S. Molloy, 2011. "Does Tax Policy Affect Executive Compensation? Evidence from Postwar Tax Reforms," NBER Working Papers 16812, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Gunter, Samara, 2013. "State Earned Income Tax Credits And Participation In Regular And Informal Work," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 66(1), pages 33-62, March.
  4. Niepelt, Dirk, 2005. "Timing tax evasion," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 89(9-10), pages 1611-1637, September.
  5. Agell, Jonas & Englund, Peter & Södersten, Jan, 1996. "Tax Reform of the Century - The Swedish Experiment," Working Paper Series 1996:13, Uppsala University, Department of Economics.
  6. Joel Slemrod, 1995. "Involvement, Prosperity, and Economic Growth?," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 26(2), pages 373-431.
  7. Seppo Kari & Jarkko Harju, 2011. "Dividend taxes and decisions of MNEs: Evidence from a Finnish tax reform," Working Papers 27, Government Institute for Economic Research Finland (VATT).
  8. Erlend Bø & Peter Lambert & Thor Thoresen, 2012. "Horizontal inequity under a dual income tax system: principles and measurement," International Tax and Public Finance, Springer, vol. 19(5), pages 625-640, October.
  9. Miyazaki, Takeshi & Kitamura, Yukinobu, 2014. "Redistributive Effects of Income Tax Rates and Tax Base 1984-2009: Evidence from Japanese Tax Reforms," Discussion Paper Series 610, Institute of Economic Research, Hitotsubashi University.
  10. Lüthi, Sonja & Wüstenhagen, Rolf, 2012. "The price of policy risk — Empirical insights from choice experiments with European photovoltaic project developers," Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 34(4), pages 1001-1011.
  11. repec:hal:wpaper:halshs-00588318 is not listed on IDEAS
  12. Rebecca M. Blank & Kerwin Kofi Charles & James M. Sallee, 2009. "A Cautionary Tale about the Use of Administrative Data: Evidence from Age of Marriage Laws," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 1(2), pages 128-49, April.

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