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Direct or Indirect Tax Instruments for Redistribution: Short-run versus Long-run

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  • Emmanuel Saez

Abstract

Optimal tax theory has shown that, under weak assumptions, indirect taxation such as production subsidies, tariffs, or differentiated commodity taxation, are sub-optimal and that redistribution should be achieved solely with the direct income tax. However, these important results of optimal tax theory, namely production efficiency and uniform commodity taxation under non-linear income taxation, have been shown to break down when labor taxation is based on income only and when there is imperfect substitution of labor types in the production function. These results in favor of indirect tax instruments are valid in the short-run when skills are exogenous and individuals cannot move from occupation to occupation. In the long-run, it is more realistic to assume that individuals choose their occupation based on the relative after-tax rewards. This paper shows that, in that context, production efficiency and the uniform commodity tax result are restored. Therefore, in a long-run context, direct income taxation should be preferred to indirect tax instruments to raise revenue and achieve redistribution.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 8833.

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Date of creation: Mar 2002
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Publication status: published as Saez, Emmanuel. "Direct Or Indirect Tax Instruments For Redistribution: Short-Run Versus Long-Run," Journal of Public Economics, 2004, v88(3-4,Mar), 507-518.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:8833

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  1. Guesnerie, R., 1998. "Peut-on toujours redistribuer les gains à la spécialisation et à l'echange? Un retour en pointillé sur Ricardo et Heckscher-Ohlin," DELTA Working Papers 98-07, DELTA (Ecole normale supérieure).
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  4. Emmanuel Saez, 2000. "Using Elasticities to Derive Optimal Income Tax Rates," NBER Working Papers 7628, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  7. Feldstein, Martin, 1995. "Effect of Marginal Tax Rates on Taxable Income: A Panel Study of the 1986 Tax Reform Act," Scholarly Articles 2766676, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  8. Gruber, Jon & Saez, Emmanuel, 2002. "The elasticity of taxable income: evidence and implications," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 84(1), pages 1-32, April.
  9. Emmanuel Saez, 2002. "Optimal Income Transfer Programs: Intensive Versus Extensive Labor Supply Responses," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 117(3), pages 1039-1073, August.
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  15. Peter A. Diamond, 1982. "Protection, Trade Adjustment Assistance, and Income Distribution," NBER Chapters, in: Import Competition and Response, pages 123-150 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  17. Naito, Hisahiro, 1999. "Re-examination of uniform commodity taxes under a non-linear income tax system and its implication for production efficiency," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 71(2), pages 165-188, February.
  18. Saez, Emmanuel, 2002. "The desirability of commodity taxation under non-linear income taxation and heterogeneous tastes," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 83(2), pages 217-230, February.
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