Income taxes as reciprocal tariffs
This article shows the equivalence between tariffs on international trade and income taxation. Traditionally, income taxes have been seen as lowering society's output through the household's labor-leisure trade-off. Income taxes also reduce the degree to which individuals specialize in market activity, which is similar to the way countries respond to tariffs in international trade. Income taxes discourage individuals from specializing in activities that reflect their comparative advantage. In so doing, income taxes may have their most distorting effects, not by encouraging individuals to work less but by causing them to spend more time working at endeavors for which their talent is limited. Using a general model of interpersonal exchange, the authors demonstrate parallels between income taxes and tariffs. Over a range of income taxes, raising taxes can benefit large groups of similarly skilled individuals and hurt small groups. As in tariff theory, the costs of income taxes are small only if they succeed in raising revenue. Thus, it is very costly for an economy to be on the downward portion of its tax revenue (Laffer) curve. The more heterogeneous the society, the higher the income tax rate that will maximize tax revenues. By overlooking the effects of heterogeneity in the workforce and the potential for workers to flee to home production, policymakers may under- or overestimate the effects of income taxes on various sectors of the economy and tax with unintended consequences.
Volume (Year): (1998)
Issue (Month): Q III ()
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