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The Optimal Income Taxation of Couples as a Multi-Dimensional Screening Problem

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  • Emmanuel Saez

    (UC Berkeley)

  • Claus Thustrup Kreiner

    (University of Copenhagen)

  • Henrik Jacobsen Kleven

    (London School of Economics)

Abstract

This paper explores the optimal income tax treatment of couples. Each couple is modelled as a single agent supplying labor along two dimensions: primary-earner and secondary-earner labor supply. We consider fully general nonlinear income tax schedules which creates a multi-dimensional screening problem. We prove that, under regularity and separability assumptions for utility functions and for a wide class of social welfare functions, optimal tax schemes display negative jointness such that the tax rate on one person decreases in the earnings of the spouse. We also show that the tax on the secondary earner tends to zero asymptotically as the earnings of the primary earner becomes large. These results are valid both in models where secondary earners make only a binary labor supply choice (work or not work), and in models where both spouses make continuous labor supply decisions. In the latter case and in contrast to the multi-dimensional screening monopoly model, the optimal tax system is regular everywhere with no bunching for a wide set of parameters.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Society for Economic Dynamics in its series 2008 Meeting Papers with number 472.

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Date of creation: 2008
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Handle: RePEc:red:sed008:472

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References

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  1. Michael J. Boskin & Eytan Sheshinski, 1984. "Optimal Tax Treatment of the Family: Married Couples," NBER Working Papers 0368, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Chiappori, Pierre-Andre, 1988. "Rational Household Labor Supply," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 56(1), pages 63-90, January.
  3. CREMER, Helmuth & LOZACHMEUR, Jean-Marie & PESTIEAU, Pierre, 2007. "Income taxation of couples and the tax unit choice," CORE Discussion Papers 2007013, Université catholique de Louvain, Center for Operations Research and Econometrics (CORE).
  4. Mark Armstrong & John Vickers, 2010. "Competitive Non-linear Pricing and Bundling," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 77(1), pages 30-60.
  5. Mirrlees, J. A., 1976. "Optimal tax theory : A synthesis," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 6(4), pages 327-358, November.
  6. Wilson, Robert, 1997. "Nonlinear Pricing," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780195115826.
  7. John Piggott & John Whalley, 1994. "The Tax Unit and Household Production," NBER Working Papers 4820, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Armstrong, Mark, 2006. "Price discrimination," MPRA Paper 4693, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  9. Emmanuel Saez, 2000. "Optimal Income Transfer Programs: Intensive Versus Extensive Labor Supply Responses," NBER Working Papers 7708, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Emmanuel Saez, 2000. "Using Elasticities to Derive Optimal Income Tax Rates," NBER Working Papers 7628, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. Blundell, Richard & Macurdy, Thomas, 1999. "Labor supply: A review of alternative approaches," Handbook of Labor Economics, in: O. Ashenfelter & D. Card (ed.), Handbook of Labor Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 27, pages 1559-1695 Elsevier.
  12. Deaton, Angus, 1992. "Understanding Consumption," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780198288244.
  13. Craig Brett, 2007. "Optimal nonlinear taxes for families," International Tax and Public Finance, Springer, vol. 14(3), pages 225-261, June.
  14. Armstrong, Mark & Rochet, Jean-Charles, 1999. "Multi-dimensional screening:: A user's guide," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 43(4-6), pages 959-979, April.
  15. Roger B. Myerson, 1988. "Mechanism Design," Discussion Papers 796, Northwestern University, Center for Mathematical Studies in Economics and Management Science.
  16. Armstrong, Mark & Vickers, John, 2001. "Competitive Price Discrimination," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 32(4), pages 579-605, Winter.
  17. Alm, James & Whittington, Leslie A, 1999. "For Love or Money? The Impact of Income Taxes on Marriage," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 66(263), pages 297-316, August.
  18. Schroyen, Fred, 2003. "Redistributive taxation and the household: the case of individual filings," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 87(11), pages 2527-2547, October.
  19. McAfee, R. Preston & McMillan, John, 1988. "Multidimensional incentive compatibility and mechanism design," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 46(2), pages 335-354, December.
  20. Rochet, Jean-Charles, 1987. "A necessary and sufficient condition for rationalizability in a quasi-linear context," Journal of Mathematical Economics, Elsevier, vol. 16(2), pages 191-200, April.
  21. Shelly Lundberg & Robert A. Pollak, 1996. "Bargaining and Distribution in Marriage," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 10(4), pages 139-158, Fall.
  22. Armstrong, Mark, 1996. "Multiproduct Nonlinear Pricing," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 64(1), pages 51-75, January.
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Cited by:
  1. Herwig Immervoll & Henrik Jacobsen Kleven & Claus Thustrup Kreiner & Nicolaj Verdelin, 2009. "An Evaluation of the Tax-Transfer Treatment of Married Couples in European Countries," OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers 76, OECD Publishing.
  2. Immervoll, Herwig & Kleven, Henrik Jacobsen & Kreiner, Claus Thustrup & Verdelin, Nicolaj, 2011. "Optimal tax and transfer programs for couples with extensive labor supply responses," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 95(11), pages 1485-1500.

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