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Income Tax and Top Incomes over the Twentieth Century

  • A. B. Atkinson

    (Nuffield College, Oxford)

The first section of the paper gives a stylised account of the development of the UK income tax structure over the past 200 years, and refers to recent changes in other OECD countries. The second section turns to the distribution of income and summarises the evidence about the top of the income distribution that can be derived from the income tax data. The main results relate to the UK, but comparisons are made with similar evidence for Canada, France, the Netherlands, and the US. The third part of the paper considers the explanation of the observed changes in the distribution and the impact of progressive income taxation. How far are changes in income shares a reflection of the re-arrangement of income? How far are they associated with changes in the composition of top incomes? Conclusions about distributional incidence have to be based on modelling the determination of the personal income distribution, but such modelling is not typically treated in public finance textbooks. The fourth section of the paper considers how the analysis of distributional incidence can be developed, paying specific attention to the explanation of the upper tail of the distribution

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Article provided by IEF in its journal Hacienda Pública Española/Revista de Economía Pública.

Volume (Year): 168 (2004)
Issue (Month): 1 (march)
Pages: 123-141

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Handle: RePEc:hpe:journl:y:2004:v:168:i:1:p:123-141
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  1. Joseph E. Stiglitz, 1967. "Distribution of Income and Wealth Among Individuals," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 238, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University.
  2. Edward P. Lazear & Sherwin Rosen, 1979. "Rank-Order Tournaments as Optimum Labor Contracts," NBER Working Papers 0401, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Roger H. Gordon & Joel Slemrod, 1998. "Are "Real" Responses to Taxes Simply Income Shifting Between Corporate and Personal Tax Bases?," NBER Working Papers 6576, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Agell, J & Englund, P & Sodersten, J, 1996. "Tax reform of the Century - the Swedish Experiment," Papers 1996-13, Uppsala - Working Paper Series.
  5. Musgrave, Richard A, 1987. "Short of Euphoria," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 1(1), pages 59-71, Summer.
  6. Pechman, Joseph A, 1987. "Tax Reform: Theory and Practice," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 1(1), pages 11-28, Summer.
  7. Thomas Piketty & Emmanuel Saez, 2003. "Income Inequality In The United States, 1913-1998," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 118(1), pages 1-39, February.
  8. Anthony B. Atkinson & Wiemer Salverda, 2005. "Top Incomes In The Netherlands And The United Kingdom Over The 20th Century," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 3(4), pages 883-913, 06.
  9. A. B. Atkinson & S. Voitchovsky, 2011. "The Distribution of Top Earnings in the UK since the Second World War," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 78(311), pages 440-459, 07.
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