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Optimal Taxation and Optimal Tax Systems

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  • Slemrod, Joel

Abstract

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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Suggested Citation

  • Slemrod, Joel, 1990. "Optimal Taxation and Optimal Tax Systems," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 4(1), pages 157-178, Winter.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:4:y:1990:i:1:p:157-78
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Atkinson, A. B. & Stiglitz, J. E., 1976. "The design of tax structure: Direct versus indirect taxation," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, pages 55-75.
    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.
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    4. Stiglitz, Joseph E., 1987. "Pareto efficient and optimal taxation and the new new welfare economics," Handbook of Public Economics,in: A. J. Auerbach & M. Feldstein (ed.), Handbook of Public Economics, edition 1, volume 2, chapter 15, pages 991-1042 Elsevier.
    5. Joel Slemrod, 1989. "The Return To Tax Simplification: an Econometric Analysis," Public Finance Review, , vol. 17(1), pages 3-27, January.
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    8. Slemrod, Joel & Yitzhaki, Shlomo, 1987. " The Optimal Size of a Tax Collection Agency," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 89(2), pages 183-192.
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