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Is there more redistribution in Scandinavia than in the US?


  • Peter J. Lambert

    () (Economics Dept, University of Oregon, Eugene, USA and Statistics Norway, Oslo, Norway)

  • Runa Nesbakken

    () (Research Department, Statistics Norway, Oslo, Norway)

  • Thor O. Thoresen

    () (Research Department, Statistics Norway, Oslo, Norway)


Are the Scandinavian countries more redistributive than the US? Given the impression of Scandinavian egalitarianism one may conjecture that they redistribute more, but there is not irrefutable support for this in the literature. In general, the relationship between income inequality and redistribution from a cross-country perspective is not settled. Differences in how pre-fisc distributions enter into the measurement contribute to the ambiguity, as does the lack of an agreed redistribution measure; more fundamentally, there is not even an agreed methodology for answering the question. In this paper we re-examine the issue, applying both conventional methodology and the transplant-and-compare approach which renders fiscal regimes into a common base by adjusting for differences in pre-fisc income inequality. Redistributional efforts in the US and three Scandinavian countries, Norway, Sweden and Denmark, are found to depend on the method employed and comparisons vary for different redistribution indices. The US stands out as more tax redistributive than the Scandinavian countries using conventional methodology, but according to the common base approach, US redistributional effort is ranked below that of both Sweden and Denmark for a range of indices. This finding of strong dependence of conclusions upon the methodology adopted is worth emphasizing, since substantial efforts are allocated to the theoretical understanding of different results.

Suggested Citation

  • Peter J. Lambert & Runa Nesbakken & Thor O. Thoresen, 2012. "Is there more redistribution in Scandinavia than in the US?," Economics Bulletin, AccessEcon, vol. 32(3), pages 2146-2154.
  • Handle: RePEc:ebl:ecbull:eb-12-00443

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Slemrod, Joel & Kopczuk, Wojciech, 2002. "The optimal elasticity of taxable income," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 84(1), pages 91-112, April.
    2. Peter Lambert & Thor Thoresen, 2009. "Base independence in the analysis of tax policy effects: with an application to Norway 1992–2004," International Tax and Public Finance, Springer;International Institute of Public Finance, vol. 16(2), pages 219-252, April.
    3. Peter Lambert & Thor Thoresen & Runa Nesbakken, 2010. "On the Meaning and Measurement of Redistribution in Cross-Country Comparisons," LIS Working papers 532, LIS Cross-National Data Center in Luxembourg.
    4. Milanovic, Branko, 2000. "The median-voter hypothesis, income inequality, and income redistribution: an empirical test with the required data," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 16(3), pages 367-410, September.
    5. Dardanoni, Valentino & Lambert, Peter J., 2002. "Progressivity comparisons," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 86(1), pages 99-122, October.
    6. Bassett, William F. & Burkett, John P. & Putterman, Louis, 1999. "Income distribution, government transfers, and the problem of unequal influence," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 15(2), pages 207-228, June.
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    Cited by:

    1. Peter J. Lambert & Runa Nesbakken & Thor O. Thoresen, 2015. "A common base answer to "Which country is most redistributive?"," Discussion Papers 811, Statistics Norway, Research Department.
    2. Thor O. Thoresen & Zhiyang Jia & Peter J. Lambert, 2013. "Distributional benchmarking in tax policy evaluations," Discussion Papers 765, Statistics Norway, Research Department.

    More about this item


    Redistributive effect; Personal income tax; Cross-country comparison;

    JEL classification:

    • H2 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue
    • H1 - Public Economics - - Structure and Scope of Government


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