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The Elasticity of Taxable Income with Respect to Marginal Tax Rates: A Critical Review

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  • Emmanuel Saez
  • Joel Slemrod
  • Seth H. Giertz

Abstract

This paper critically surveys the large and growing literature estimating the elasticity of taxable income with respect to marginal tax rates using tax return data. First, we provide a theoretical framework showing under what assumptions this elasticity can be used as a sufficient statistic for efficiency and optimal tax analysis. We discuss what other parameters should be estimated when the elasticity is not a sufficient statistic. Second, we discuss conceptually the key issues that arise in the empirical estimation of the elasticity of taxable income using the example of the 1993 top individual income tax rate increase in the United States to illustrate those issues. Third, we provide a critical discussion of selected empirical analyses of the elasticity of taxable income in light of the theoretical and empirical framework we laid out. Finally, we discuss avenues for future research. ( JEL H24, H31, J22)

Suggested Citation

  • Emmanuel Saez & Joel Slemrod & Seth H. Giertz, 2012. "The Elasticity of Taxable Income with Respect to Marginal Tax Rates: A Critical Review," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 50(1), pages 3-50, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:jeclit:v:50:y:2012:i:1:p:3-50
    Note: DOI: 10.1257/jel.50.1.3
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    • H24 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Personal Income and Other Nonbusiness Taxes and Subsidies
    • H31 - Public Economics - - Fiscal Policies and Behavior of Economic Agents - - - Household
    • J22 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Time Allocation and Labor Supply

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