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A New Approach to Optimal Commodity Taxation


  • Stefan Homburg


This paper makes a fresh attempt at characterizing optimal commodity taxes. Under the usual assumptions, an extremely simple expression for second-best commodity taxes is derived, showing tax rates as functions of observable variables only, rather than as functions of unobservable variables such as compensated cross-elasticities. The main formula is independent of special preferences and of the number of commodities. It has a simple economic meaning and could be particularly useful for empirical research. Examples and remarks on the normalization problem are provided.

Suggested Citation

  • Stefan Homburg, 2006. "A New Approach to Optimal Commodity Taxation," FinanzArchiv: Public Finance Analysis, Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen, vol. 62(3), pages 323-338, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:mhr:finarc:urn:sici:0015-2218(200609)62:3_323:anatoc_2.0.tx_2-n
    DOI: 10.1628/001522106X153392

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Michael Smart, 2002. "Reforming the Direct–Indirect Tax Mix," International Tax and Public Finance, Springer;International Institute of Public Finance, vol. 9(2), pages 143-155, March.
    2. Myles,Gareth D., 1995. "Public Economics," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521497695, March.
    3. Auerbach, Alan J. & Hines, James Jr., 2002. "Taxation and economic efficiency," Handbook of Public Economics,in: A. J. Auerbach & M. Feldstein (ed.), Handbook of Public Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 21, pages 1347-1421 Elsevier.
    4. Atkinson, A. B. & Stiglitz, J. E., 1972. "The structure of indirect taxation and economic efficiency," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 1(1), pages 97-119, April.
    5. Sandmo, Agnar, 1990. "Tax Distortions and Household Production," Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford University Press, vol. 42(1), pages 78-90, January.
    6. Auerbach, Alan J., 1985. "The theory of excess burden and optimal taxation," Handbook of Public Economics,in: A. J. Auerbach & M. Feldstein (ed.), Handbook of Public Economics, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 2, pages 61-127 Elsevier.
    7. David Coady & Jean Drèze, 2002. "Commodity Taxation and Social Welfare: The Generalized Ramsey Rule," International Tax and Public Finance, Springer;International Institute of Public Finance, vol. 9(3), pages 295-316, May.
    8. Nicholas Stern, 1986. "A Note on Commodity Taxation: The Choice of Variable and the Slutsky, Hessian and Antonelli Matrices (SHAM)," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 53(2), pages 293-299.
    9. W. J. Corlett & D. C. Hague, 1953. "Complementarity and the Excess Burden of Taxation," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 21(1), pages 21-30.
    10. Mirrlees, J. A., 1976. "Optimal tax theory : A synthesis," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 6(4), pages 327-358, November.
    11. Angus Deaton, 1979. "The Distance Function in Consumer Behaviour with Applications to Index Numbers and Optimal Taxation," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 46(3), pages 391-405.
    12. Sandmo, Agnar, 1987. "A Reinterpretation of Elasticity Formulae in Optimum Tax Theory," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 54(213), pages 89-96, February.
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    Cited by:

    1. Homburg, Stefan, 2010. "Allgemeine Steuerlehre," EconStor Books, ZBW - German National Library of Economics, number 92547.
    2. Yoshitomo Ogawa, 2007. "The optimal commodity tax structure in a four-good model," International Tax and Public Finance, Springer;International Institute of Public Finance, vol. 14(6), pages 657-671, December.
    3. Ulrich van Suntum, "undated". "Income Taxes, Death Taxes, and Optimal Consumption-Leisure-Savings-Choice," Working Papers 200124, Institute of Spatial and Housing Economics, Munster Universitary.
    4. van Suntum, Ulrich, 2008. "Income taxes, death taxes, and optimal consumption-leisure-savings-choice," CAWM Discussion Papers 4, University of Münster, Center of Applied Economic Research Münster (CAWM).

    More about this item


    optimal commodity taxation; Ramsey rule;

    JEL classification:

    • H21 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Efficiency; Optimal Taxation


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