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

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  • N. Gregory Mankiw
  • Matthew Weinzierl

Abstract

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)

Suggested Citation

  • 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.
  • 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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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D64 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Altruism; Philanthropy; Intergenerational Transfers
    • H21 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Efficiency; Optimal Taxation
    • H23 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Externalities; Redistributive Effects; Environmental Taxes and Subsidies
    • H24 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Personal Income and Other Nonbusiness Taxes and Subsidies
    • J11 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Demographic Trends, Macroeconomic Effects, and Forecasts

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