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The Optimal Taxation of Height: A Case Study of Utilitarian Income Redistribution

  • N. Gregory Mankiw
  • Matthew Weinzierl

Should the income tax include a credit for short taxpayers and a surcharge for tall ones? The standard utilitarian framework for tax analysis answers this question in the affirmative. Moreover, a plausible parameterization using data on height and wages implies a substantial height tax: a tall person earning $50,000 should pay $4,500 more in tax than a short person. One interpretation is that personal attributes correlated with wages should be considered more widely for determining taxes. Alternatively, if policies such as a height tax are rejected, then the standard utilitarian framework must fail to capture intuitive notions of distributive justice. (JEL D64, H21, H23, H24, J11)

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Article provided by American Economic Association in its journal American Economic Journal: Economic Policy.

Volume (Year): 2 (2010)
Issue (Month): 1 (February)
Pages: 155-76

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Handle: RePEc:aea:aejpol:v:2:y:2010:i:1:p:155-76
Note: DOI: 10.1257/pol.2.1.155
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  1. Nicola Persico & Andrew Postlewaite & Dan Silverman, 2003. "The Effect of Adolescent Experience on Labor Market Outcomes: The Case of Height," PIER Working Paper Archive 03-036, Penn Institute for Economic Research, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania.
  2. Immonen, Ritva, et al, 1998. "Tagging and Taxing: The Optimal Use of Categorical and Income Information in Designing Tax/Transfer Schemes," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 65(258), pages 179-92, May.
  3. Stefania Albanesi & Christopher Sleet, 2004. "Dynamic optimal taxation with private information," Discussion Paper / Institute for Empirical Macroeconomics 140, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
  4. Anne Case & Christina Paxson, 2006. "Stature and Status: Height, Ability, and Labor Market Outcomes," NBER Working Papers 12466, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Alberto Alesina & Andrea Ichino & Loukas Karabarbounis, 2007. "Gender Based Taxation and the Division of Family Chores," NBER Working Papers 13638, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Saez, Emmanuel, 2001. "Using Elasticities to Derive Optimal Income Tax Rates," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 68(1), pages 205-29, January.
  7. Tuomala, Matti, 1990. "Optimal Income Tax and Redistribution," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780198286059, March.
  8. Viard, Alan D, 2001. " Optimal Categorical Transfer Payments: The Welfare Economics of Limited Lump-Sum Redistribution," Journal of Public Economic Theory, Association for Public Economic Theory, vol. 3(4), pages 483-500.
  9. Mirrlees, James A, 1971. "An Exploration in the Theory of Optimum Income Taxation," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 38(114), pages 175-208, April.
  10. Narayana R. Kocherlakota, 2003. "Zero Expected Wealth Taxes: A Mirrlees Approach to Dynamic Optimal Taxation," Levine's Bibliography 666156000000000426, UCLA Department of Economics.
  11. Alan D. Viard, 2001. "Some Results on the Comparative Statics of Optimal Categorical Transfer Payments," Public Finance Review, , vol. 29(2), pages 148-180, March.
  12. Kevin A. Hassett & R. Glenn Hubbard & Alan J. Auerbach & Robert J. Barro & N. Gregory Mankiw & Alan S. Blinder & Jon M. Bakija & Louis Kaplow & Edmund S. Phelps & John E. Roemer & Roger H. Gordon & Ma, 2001. "Inequality and Tax Policy," Books, American Enterprise Institute, number 53290, 3.
  13. Kanbur, Ravi & Keen, Michael & Toumala, Matti, 1991. "Optimal non-linear income taxation for the alleviation of income poverty," Policy Research Working Paper Series 616, The World Bank.
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