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Tax–benefit revealed social preferences

  • François Bourguignon
  • Amedeo Spadaro


This paper inverts the usual logic of applied optimal income taxation. It starts from the observed distribution of income before and after redistribution and corresponding marginal tax rates. Under a set of simplifying assumptions, it is then possible to recover the social welfare function that would make the observed marginal tax rate schedule optimal. In this framework, the issue of the optimality of an existing tax-benefit system is transformed into the issue of the shape of the social welfare function associated with that system and whether it satisfies elementary properties. This method is applied to the French redistribution system with the interesting implication that the French redistribution authority either has a rather low estimate of the labor supply elasticity or does not give positive social weights to the richest tax payers.

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Article provided by Springer in its journal The Journal of Economic Inequality.

Volume (Year): 10 (2012)
Issue (Month): 1 (March)
Pages: 75-108

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Handle: RePEc:kap:jecinq:v:10:y:2012:i:1:p:75-108
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  1. Emmanuel Saez, 2002. "Optimal Income Transfer Programs: Intensive Versus Extensive Labor Supply Responses," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 117(3), pages 1039-1073, August.
  2. Olivier Bargain, 2004. "On modeling household labor supply with taxation," DELTA Working Papers 2004-14, DELTA (Ecole normale supérieure).
  3. Henrik Jacobsen Kleven & Claus Thustrup Kreiner & Emmanuel Saez, 2009. "The Optimal Income Taxation of Couples," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 77(2), pages 537-560, 03.
  4. Philippe Chone & Guy Laroque, 2001. "Optimal Incentives for Labor Force Participation," Working Papers 2001-26, Centre de Recherche en Economie et Statistique.
  5. Richard Blundell & Alan Duncan & Costas Meghir, 1998. "Estimating Labor Supply Responses Using Tax Reforms," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 66(4), pages 827-862, July.
  6. repec:cup:cbooks:9780521355643 is not listed on IDEAS
  7. Tuomala, Matti, 1990. "Optimal Income Tax and Redistribution," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780198286059.
  8. Ebert, Udo, 1992. "A reexamination of the optimal nonlinear income tax," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 49(1), pages 47-73, October.
  9. François Bourguignon & Amedeo Spadaro, 2000. "Redistribution et incitations au travail. Une application empirique simple de la fiscalité optimale," Revue Économique, Programme National Persée, vol. 51(3), pages 473-487.
  10. repec:cup:cbooks:9780521586115 is not listed on IDEAS
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. Emmanuel Saez, 2000. "Using Elasticities to Derive Optimal Income Tax Rates," NBER Working Papers 7628, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. Seade, J. K., 1977. "On the shape of optimal tax schedules," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 7(2), pages 203-235, April.
  15. Sutherland, Holly, 2001. "EUROMOD: an integrated European benefit-tax model: final report," EUROMOD Working Papers EM9/01, EUROMOD at the Institute for Social and Economic Research.
  16. Mirrlees, James A, 1971. "An Exploration in the Theory of Optimum Income Taxation," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 38(114), pages 175-208, April.
  17. Richard Blundell & Mike Brewer & Peter Haan & Andrew Shephard, 2009. "Optimal Income Taxation of Lone Mothers: An Empirical Comparison of the UK and Germany," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 119(535), pages F101-F121, 02.
  18. Hausman, Jerry A, 1985. "The Econometrics of Nonlinear Budget Sets," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 53(6), pages 1255-82, November.
  19. François Bourguignon & Thierry Magnac, 1990. "Labor Supply and Taxation in France," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 25(3), pages 358-389.
  20. Guy Laroque, 2005. "Income Maintenance and Labor Force Participation," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 73(2), pages 341-376, 03.
  21. Ahmad, Ehtisham & Stern, Nicholas, 1984. "The theory of reform and indian indirect taxes," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 25(3), pages 259-298, December.
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