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Optimal Taxation and Optimal Tax Systems

  • Slemrod, Joel

The theory of optimal taxation has , for the pas two decades , been the reigning normative approach of taxation. This paper argues that , in its current state, optimal tax theory is incomplete as a guide to action concerning many critical issues in tax policy. It is incomplete because it has not yet come to terms with taxation as a system of coercively collecting revenues from individuals who will tend to resist. The coercive nature of collection taxes implies that the resource cost of implementing a tax system have been and will continue to be a critical determinant of appropriate tax policy. The paper first presents the three cornerstone propositions of optimal tax theory, and then it discusses the influence of these propositions on recent tax policy developments. It concludes by sketching an alternative to optimal taxation, called the theory of optimal tax systems, which embraces the insights of optimal taxation but also considers the technology of raising taxes and the constraints placed upon tax policy by that technology. The optimal tax systems perspective is shown to shed light on the choice of tax instruments, the problem of tax evasion, and the appropriate tax treatment of capital income.

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Article provided by American Economic Association in its journal Journal of Economic Perspectives.

Volume (Year): 4 (1990)
Issue (Month): 1 (Winter)
Pages: 157-78

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Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:4:y:1990:i:1:p:157-78
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  1. Slemrod, Joel & Yitzhaki, Shlomo, 1987. " The Optimal Size of a Tax Collection Agency," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 89(2), pages 183-92.
  2. Joel Slemrod & Nikki Sorum, 1984. "The Compliance Cost of the U.S. Individual Income Tax System," NBER Working Papers 1401, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Hahn, Frank H., 1973. "On optimum taxation," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 6(1), pages 96-106, February.
  4. Allingham, Michael G. & Sandmo, Agnar, 1972. "Income tax evasion: a theoretical analysis," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 1(3-4), pages 323-338, November.
  5. Mirrlees, J. A., 1976. "Optimal tax theory : A synthesis," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 6(4), pages 327-358, November.
  6. Joseph E. Stiglitz, 1987. "Pareto Efficient and Optimal Taxation and the New New Welfare Economics," NBER Working Papers 2189, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Alan J. Auerbach, 1982. "The Theory of Excess Burden and Optimal Taxation," NBER Working Papers 1025, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Roger H. Gordon & Joel Slemrod, 1988. "Do We Collect Any Revenue from Taxing Capital Income?," NBER Chapters, in: Tax Policy and the Economy: Volume 2, pages 89-130 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Lawrence H. Summers, 1987. "Should Tax Reform Level the Playing Field?," NBER Working Papers 2132, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. C E McLure, 1984. "The evolution of tax advice and the taxation of capital income in the USA," Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy, Pion Ltd, London, vol. 2(3), pages 251-269, June.
  11. Clotfelter, Charles T, 1983. "Tax Evasion and Tax Rates: An Analysis of Individual Returns," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 65(3), pages 363-73, August.
  12. Atkinson, A. B. & Stiglitz, J. E., 1976. "The design of tax structure: Direct versus indirect taxation," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 6(1-2), pages 55-75.
  13. Dan Usher, 1986. "Tax Evasion and the Marginal Cost of Public Funds," Working Papers 637, Queen's University, Department of Economics.
  14. Stern, Nicholas, 1982. "Optimum taxation with errors in administration," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 17(2), pages 181-211, March.
  15. Joel Slemrod, 1989. "The Return To Tax Simplification: an Econometric Analysis," Public Finance Review, , vol. 17(1), pages 3-27, January.
  16. Heller, Walter P & Shell, Karl, 1974. "On Optimal Taxation with Costly Administration," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 64(2), pages 338-45, May.
  17. Feldstein, Martin S, 1978. "The Welfare Cost of Capital Income Taxation," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 86(2), pages S29-51, April.
  18. Sadka, Efraim, 1976. "On Income Distribution, Incentive Effects and Optimal Income Taxation," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 43(2), pages 261-67, June.
  19. Yitzhaki, Shlomo, 1979. "A Note on Optimal Taxation and Administrative Costs," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 69(3), pages 475-80, June.
  20. 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.
  21. Stern, N. H., 1976. "On the specification of models of optimum income taxation," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 6(1-2), pages 123-162.
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