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Direct versus Indirect Taxation: The Design of the Tax Structure Revisted

  • Cremer, Helmuth
  • Pestieau, Pierre
  • Rochet, Jean-Charles

This article studies the optimal direct/indirect tax mix problem when individuals differ in several unobservable characteristics (productivity and endowments). It presents general expressions for the optimal commodity tax rates and proves that contrary to Atkinson and Stiglitz's (1976) result, differential commodity taxation remains a useful instrument of tax policy even if preferences are separable between labor and produced goods. When cross substitution effects are zero, the expressions resemble traditional many households Ramsey rules. In a Cobb-Douglas illustration, where endowments differ only in good 1 (interpreted as "wealth"), the tax on good 2 provides an indirect way to tax the unobservable wealth.

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Article provided by Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association in its journal International Economic Review.

Volume (Year): 42 (2001)
Issue (Month): 3 (August)
Pages: 781-99

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Handle: RePEc:ier:iecrev:v:42:y:2001:i:3:p:781-99
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  1. Joseph E. Stiglitz, 1987. "Pareto Efficient and Optimal Taxation and the New New Welfare Economics," NBER Working Papers 2189, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Anthony B. Atkinson, 1976. "Optimal Taxation and the Direct versus Indirect Tax Controversy," Working Papers 247, Queen's University, Department of Economics.
  3. Mirrlees, J. A., 1976. "Optimal tax theory : A synthesis," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 6(4), pages 327-358, November.
  4. Cremer, Helmuth & Gahvari, Firouz, 1995. "Uncertainty, Optimal Taxation and the Direct versus Indirect Tax Controversy," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 105(432), pages 1165-79, September.
  5. 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.
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