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Salience and Taxation: Theory and Evidence

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  • Raj Chetty
  • Adam Looney
  • Kory Kroft

Abstract

Using two strategies, we show that consumers underreact to taxes that are not salient. First, using a field experiment in a grocery store, we find that posting tax-inclusive price tags reduces demand by 8 percent. Second, increases in taxes included in posted prices reduce alcohol consumption more than increases in taxes applied at the register. We develop a theoretical framework for applied welfare analysis that accommodates salience effects and other optimization failures. The simple formulas we derive imply that the economic incidence of a tax depends on its statutory incidence, and that even policies that induce no change in behavior can create efficiency losses. (JEL C93, D12, H25, H71)

Suggested Citation

  • Raj Chetty & Adam Looney & Kory Kroft, 2009. "Salience and Taxation: Theory and Evidence," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 99(4), pages 1145-1177, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:aecrev:v:99:y:2009:i:4:p:1145-77
    Note: DOI: 10.1257/aer.99.4.1145
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • C93 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Field Experiments
    • D12 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Consumer Economics: Empirical Analysis
    • H25 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Business Taxes and Subsidies
    • H71 - Public Economics - - State and Local Government; Intergovernmental Relations - - - State and Local Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue

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