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Generalized Social Marginal Welfare Weights for Optimal Tax Theory

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Listed:
  • Emmanuel Saez
  • Stefanie Stantcheva

Abstract

This paper proposes to evaluate tax reforms by aggregating money metric losses and gains of different individuals using "generalized social marginal welfare weights." Optimum tax formulas take the same form as standard welfarist tax formulas by simply substituting standard marginal social welfare weights with those generalized weights. Weights directly capture society's concerns for fairness without being necessarily tied to individual utilities. Suitable weights can help reconcile discrepancies between the welfarist approach and actual tax practice, as well as unify in an operational way the most prominent alternatives to utilitarianism such as Libertarianism, equality of opportunity, or poverty alleviation. (JEL D60, D63, H21, H23, I38)

Suggested Citation

  • Emmanuel Saez & Stefanie Stantcheva, 2016. "Generalized Social Marginal Welfare Weights for Optimal Tax Theory," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 106(1), pages 24-45, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:aecrev:v:106:y:2016:i:1:p:24-45
    Note: DOI: 10.1257/aer.20141362
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Fleurbaey,Marc & Maniquet,François, 2011. "A Theory of Fairness and Social Welfare," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521715348.
    2. Weinzierl, Matthew, 2014. "The promise of positive optimal taxation: normative diversity and a role for equal sacrifice," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 118(C), pages 128-142.
    3. Fleurbaey, Marc, 2012. "Fairness, Responsibility, and Welfare," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780199653591.
    4. Emmanuel Saez, 2002. "Optimal Income Transfer Programs: Intensive versus Extensive Labor Supply Responses," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 117(3), pages 1039-1073.
    5. Fong, Christina, 2001. "Social preferences, self-interest, and the demand for redistribution," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 82(2), pages 225-246, November.
    6. Christiansen, Vidar & Jansen, Eilev S., 1978. "Implicit social preferences in the Norwegian system of indirect taxation," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 10(2), pages 217-245, October.
    7. Boadway, Robin, 2012. "From Optimal Tax Theory to Tax Policy: Retrospective and Prospective Views," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262017113.
    8. J. A. Mirrlees, 1971. "An Exploration in the Theory of Optimum Income Taxation," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 38(2), pages 175-208.
    9. Besley, Timothy & Coate, Stephen, 1992. "Workfare versus Welfare Incentive Arguments for Work Requirements in Poverty-Alleviation Programs," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 82(1), pages 249-261, March.
    10. Besley, Timothy & Coate, Stephen, 1992. "Understanding welfare stigma: Taxpayer resentment and statistical discrimination," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 48(2), pages 165-183, July.
    11. Marc Fleurbaey & François Maniquet, 2007. "Help the Low Skilled or Let the Hardworking Thrive? A Study of Fairness in Optimal Income Taxation," Journal of Public Economic Theory, Association for Public Economic Theory, vol. 9(3), pages 467-500, June.
    12. Atkinson, Anthony B., 1970. "On the measurement of inequality," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 2(3), pages 244-263, September.
    13. N. Gregory Mankiw & Matthew Weinzierl, 2010. "The Optimal Taxation of Height: A Case Study of Utilitarian Income Redistribution," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 2(1), pages 155-176, February.
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    15. Louis Kaplow & Steven Shavell, 2001. "Any Non-welfarist Method of Policy Assessment Violates the Pareto Principle," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 109(2), pages 281-286, April.
    16. Matthew C. Weinzierl, 2012. "Why do we Redistribute so Much but Tag so Little? The principle of equal sacrifice and optimal taxation," NBER Working Papers 18045, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    17. Cowell, Frank A. & Schokkaert, Erik, 2001. "Risk perceptions and distributional judgments," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 45(4-6), pages 941-952, May.
    18. Benjamin B. Lockwood & Matthew Weinzierl, 2012. "De Gustibus non est Taxandum: Heterogeneity in Preferences and Optimal Redistribution," Harvard Business School Working Papers 12-063, Harvard Business School, revised Sep 2014.
    19. Lucy F. Ackert & Jorge Martinez‐Vazquez & Mark Rider, 2007. "Social Preferences And Tax Policy Design: Some Experimental Evidence," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 45(3), pages 487-501, July.
    20. Emmanuel Saez, 2001. "Using Elasticities to Derive Optimal Income Tax Rates," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 68(1), pages 205-229.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D60 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - General
    • D63 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement
    • H21 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Efficiency; Optimal Taxation
    • H23 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Externalities; Redistributive Effects; Environmental Taxes and Subsidies
    • I38 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - Government Programs; Provision and Effects of Welfare Programs

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