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Uncertainty, Commitment, and Optimal Taxation

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  • Cremer, Helmuth
  • Gahvari, Firouz

Abstract

This paper examines the optimal tax design problem in the presence of wage uncertainty. The wage has a continuous distribution, individuals are ex ante identical, preferences are separable in labor supply and goods, public policy aims at providing the population with social insurance, and the only restriction on the tax instruments is that emanating from lack of public observability of realized wages and labor supplies. We show that optimal tax structures depend crucially on whether it is labor supply or goods that consumers have to commit to before the resolution of uncertainty. Specifically, we prove that, in the absence of commitment, the social insurance problem collapses to the traditional optimal tax problem. Second, if labor supply is precommitted, it would be possible to effect a first-best outcome. Third, commitment to goods would make indirect taxation a useful instrument of tax policy even in the presence of a general income tax; it requires differential tax treatment of committed and noncommitted goods. Finally, if preferences are separable between the two types of goods, precommitted goods must be taxed at a uniform rate lower than that on the noncommitted goods. Copyright 1999 by Blackwell Publishing Inc.

Suggested Citation

  • Cremer, Helmuth & Gahvari, Firouz, 1999. " Uncertainty, Commitment, and Optimal Taxation," Journal of Public Economic Theory, Association for Public Economic Theory, vol. 1(1), pages 51-70.
  • Handle: RePEc:bla:jpbect:v:1:y:1999:i:1:p:51-70
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    Cited by:

    1. Jacobs, Bas & Schindler, Dirk, 2012. "On the desirability of taxing capital income in optimal social insurance," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 96(9-10), pages 853-868.
    2. Brandon Lehr, 2016. "Optimal Social Insurance for Heterogeneous Agents With Private Insurance," Journal of Risk & Insurance, The American Risk and Insurance Association, vol. 83(2), pages 301-333, June.
    3. Findeisen, Sebastian & Sachs, Dominik, 2017. "Redistribution and insurance with simple tax instruments," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 146(C), pages 58-78.
    4. Robin Boadway & Motohiro Sato, 2015. "Optimal Income Taxation with Risky Earnings: A Synthesis," Journal of Public Economic Theory, Association for Public Economic Theory, vol. 17(6), pages 773-801, December.
    5. Bas Jacobs & Dirk Schindler, 2009. "On the Desirability of Taxing Capital Income to Reduce Moral Hazard in Social Insurance," CESifo Working Paper Series 2806, CESifo Group Munich.
    6. Dominique Henriet & Patrick Pintus & Alain Trannoy, 2014. "Is the Flat Tax Optimal under Income Risk?," AMSE Working Papers 1420, Aix-Marseille School of Economics, Marseille, France, revised 30 May 2014.
    7. Carlos E. da Costa, 2009. "Yet Another Reason to Tax Goods," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 12(2), pages 363-376, April.
    8. Hsu, Minchung & Yang, C.C., 2013. "Optimal linear and two-bracket income taxes with idiosyncratic earnings risk," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 105(C), pages 58-71.
    9. Jukka Pirttilä & Matti Tuomala, 2007. "Labour income uncertainty, taxation and public good provision," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 117(518), pages 567-582, March.
    10. Dan Anderberg & Alessandro Balestrino, 2000. "Household Production and the Design of the Tax Structure," International Tax and Public Finance, Springer;International Institute of Public Finance, vol. 7(4), pages 563-584, August.
    11. Robin Boadway & Motohiro Sato, 2011. "Optimal Income Taxation with Uncertain Earnings: A Synthesis," CESifo Working Paper Series 3654, CESifo Group Munich.

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