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Direct or indirect tax instruments for redistribution: short-run versus long-run

  • Saez, Emmanuel

Optimal tax theory has shown that, under weak assumptions, indirect taxation such as production subsidies, tariffs, or differentiated commodity taxation, are sub-optimal and that redistribution should be achieved solely with the direct income tax. However, these important results of optimal tax theory, namely production efficiency and uniform commodity taxation under non-linear income taxation, have been shown to break down when labor taxation is based on income only and when there is imperfect substitution of labor types in the production function. These results in favor of indirect tax instruments are valid in the short-run when skills are exogenous and individuals cannot move from occupation to occupation. In the long-run, it is more realistic to assume that individuals choose their occupation based on the relative after-tax rewards. This paper shows that, in that context, production efficiency and the uniform commodity tax result are restored. Therefore, in a long-run context, direct income taxation should be preferred to indirect tax instruments to raise revenue and achieve redistribution.

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Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Journal of Public Economics.

Volume (Year): 88 (2004)
Issue (Month): 3-4 (March)
Pages: 503-518

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Handle: RePEc:eee:pubeco:v:88:y:2004:i:3-4:p:503-518
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.elsevier.com/locate/inca/505578

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  1. Saez, Emmanuel, 2002. "The desirability of commodity taxation under non-linear income taxation and heterogeneous tastes," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 83(2), pages 217-230, February.
  2. Jon Gruber & Emmanuel Saez, 2000. "The Elasticity of Taxable Income: Evidence and Implications," NBER Working Papers 7512, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Seade, J. K., 1977. "On the shape of optimal tax schedules," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 7(2), pages 203-235, April.
  4. Bruce D. Meyer & Dan T. Rosenbaum, 2001. "Welfare, The Earned Income Tax Credit, And The Labor Supply Of Single Mothers," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 116(3), pages 1063-1114, August.
  5. Naito, Hisahiro, 1999. "Re-examination of uniform commodity taxes under a non-linear income tax system and its implication for production efficiency," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 71(2), pages 165-188, February.
  6. Christiansen, Vidar, 1984. "Which commodity taxes should supplement the income tax?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 24(2), pages 195-220, July.
  7. Feldstein, Martin, 1995. "Effect of Marginal Tax Rates on Taxable Income: A Panel Study of the 1986 Tax Reform Act," Scholarly Articles 2766676, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  8. Guesnerie, R., 1998. "Peut-on toujours redistribuer les gains à la spécialisation et à l'echange? Un retour en pointillé sur Ricardo et Heckscher-Ohlin," DELTA Working Papers 98-07, DELTA (Ecole normale supérieure).
  9. Blundell, Richard & Macurdy, Thomas, 1999. "Labor supply: A review of alternative approaches," Handbook of Labor Economics, in: O. Ashenfelter & D. Card (ed.), Handbook of Labor Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 27, pages 1559-1695 Elsevier.
  10. Dixit, Avinash & Norman, Victor, 1986. "Gains from trade without lump-sum compensation," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 21(1-2), pages 111-122, August.
  11. Thomas Piketty, 1997. "La redistribution fiscale face au chômage," Revue Française d'Économie, Programme National Persée, vol. 12(1), pages 157-201.
  12. Peter A. Diamond, 1982. "Protection, Trade Adjustment Assistance, and Income Distribution," NBER Chapters, in: Import Competition and Response, pages 123-150 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  13. Emmanuel Saez, 2000. "Optimal Income Transfer Programs: Intensive Versus Extensive Labor Supply Responses," NBER Working Papers 7708, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. Feldstein, Martin, 1995. "The Effect of Marginal Tax Rates on Taxable Income: A Panel Study of the 1986 Tax Reform Act," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 103(3), pages 551-72, June.
  15. Joseph E. Stiglitz, 1981. "Self-Selection and Pareto Efficient Taxation," NBER Working Papers 0632, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  16. David Spector, 1999. "Is it Possible to Redistribute the Gains from Trade Using Income Taxation?," Working papers 99-13, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
  17. Diamond, Peter A & Mirrlees, James A, 1971. "Optimal Taxation and Public Production II: Tax Rules," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 61(3), pages 261-78, June.
  18. 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.
  19. Saez, Emmanuel, 2001. "Using Elasticities to Derive Optimal Income Tax Rates," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 68(1), pages 205-29, January.
  20. Naito, H., 1996. "Tariffs and Production Subsidies as Devices to Relax the Incentive Problem of a Progressive Income Tax System," Working Papers 391, Research Seminar in International Economics, University of Michigan.
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