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Accuracy, Complexity, and the Income Tax

  • Kaplow, Louis

The complexity of the income tax is an unending source of complaint, and compliance costs are estimated to be very large. Yet most recognize that some degree of complexity is necessary if income is to be measured accurately. This article presents a framework for analyzing the value of greater accuracy in income taxation. Formulations for both distributive and incentive benefits of accuracy are offered. In addition, the article takes into account that compliance costs and the effects of complex provisions are endogenous, determined in significant part by taxpayers' information acquisition efforts. The article addresses whether taxpayers have excessive or inadequate incentives to acquire information about taxable income and to challenge tax assessments. Copyright 1998 by Oxford University Press.

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Article provided by Oxford University Press in its journal Journal of Law, Economics and Organization.

Volume (Year): 14 (1998)
Issue (Month): 1 (April)
Pages: 61-83

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Handle: RePEc:oup:jleorg:v:14:y:1998:i:1:p:61-83
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  1. Browning, Edgar K, 1987. "On the Marginal Welfare Cost of Taxation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 77(1), pages 11-23, March.
  2. Kaplow, Louis, 1989. "Horizontal Equity: Measures in Search of a Principle," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 42(2), pages 139-54, June.
  3. Stiglitz, Joseph E., 1982. "Utilitarianism and horizontal equity : The case for random taxation," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 18(1), pages 1-33, June.
  4. Barro, Robert J, 1979. "On the Determination of the Public Debt," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 87(5), pages 940-71, October.
  5. Stern, Nicholas, 1982. "Optimum taxation with errors in administration," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 17(2), pages 181-211, March.
  6. Beck, Paul J. & Jung, Woon-Oh, 1989. "Taxpayer compliance under uncertainty," Journal of Accounting and Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 8(1), pages 1-27.
  7. Louis Kaplow, 1985. "Horizontal Equity: Measures in Search of a Principle," NBER Working Papers 1679, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Louis Kaplow & Steven Shavell, 1991. "Private Versus Socially Optimal Provision of Ex Ante Legal Advice," NBER Working Papers 3868, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Scotchmer, Suzanne & Slemrod, Joel, 1989. "Randomness in tax enforcement," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 38(1), pages 17-32, February.
  10. Sanchez, Isabel & Sobel, Joel, 1993. "Hierarchical design and enforcement of income tax policies," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 50(3), pages 345-369, March.
  11. Mookherjee, Dilip & Png, Ivan, 1989. "Optimal Auditing, Insurance, and Redistribution," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 104(2), pages 399-415, May.
  12. John C. Harsanyi, 1953. "Cardinal Utility in Welfare Economics and in the Theory of Risk-taking," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 61, pages 434.
  13. Yitzhaki, Shlomo, 1979. "A Note on Optimal Taxation and Administrative Costs," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 69(3), pages 475-80, June.
  14. 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.
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