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Accuracy, Complexity, and the Income Tax

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  • Kaplow, Louis

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

  • Kaplow, Louis, 1998. "Accuracy, Complexity, and the Income Tax," Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 14(1), pages 61-83, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:jleorg:v:14:y:1998:i:1:p:61-83
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. 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.
    2. Beck, Paul J. & Jung, Woon-Oh, 1989. "Taxpayer compliance under uncertainty," Journal of Accounting and Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 8(1), pages 1-27.
    3. Scotchmer, Suzanne & Slemrod, Joel, 1989. "Randomness in tax enforcement," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 38(1), pages 17-32, February.
    4. J. A. Mirrlees, 1971. "An Exploration in the Theory of Optimum Income Taxation," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 38(2), pages 175-208.
    5. Kaplow, Louis & Shavell, Steven, 1992. "Private versus Socially Optimal Provision of Ex Ante Legal Advice," Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 8(2), pages 306-320, April.
    6. 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.
    7. Dilip Mookherjee & Ivan Png, 1989. "Optimal Auditing, Insurance, and Redistribution," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 104(2), pages 399-415.
    8. Barro, Robert J, 1979. "On the Determination of the Public Debt," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 87(5), pages 940-971, October.
    9. Kaplow, Louis, 1989. "Horizontal Equity: Measures in Search of a Principle," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 42(2), pages 139-54, June.
    10. Louis Kaplow, 1985. "Horizontal Equity: Measures in Search of a Principle," NBER Working Papers 1679, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    11. Yitzhaki, Shlomo, 1979. "A Note on Optimal Taxation and Administrative Costs," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 69(3), pages 475-480, June.
    12. Browning, Edgar K, 1987. "On the Marginal Welfare Cost of Taxation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 77(1), pages 11-23, March.
    13. Kaplow, Louis, 1989. "Horizontal Equity: Measures in Search of a Principle," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association;National Tax Journal, vol. 42(2), pages 139-154, June.
    14. 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 434-434.
    15. Stern, Nicholas, 1982. "Optimum taxation with errors in administration," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 17(2), pages 181-211, March.
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    Cited by:

    1. Bönke, Timm & Jochimsen, Beate & Schröder, Carsten, 2014. "Fiscal federalism and tax enforcement," Annual Conference 2014 (Hamburg): Evidence-based Economic Policy 100394, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.
    2. Slemrod, Joel & Traxler, Christian, 2010. "Optimal observability in a linear income tax," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 108(2), pages 105-108, August.
    3. Youssef Benzarti, 2017. "How Taxing Is Tax Filing? Using Revealed Preferences to Estimate Compliance Costs," NBER Working Papers 23903, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Slemrod, Joel & Yitzhaki, Shlomo, 2002. "Tax avoidance, evasion, and administration," Handbook of Public Economics,in: A. J. Auerbach & M. Feldstein (ed.), Handbook of Public Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 22, pages 1423-1470 Elsevier.
    5. repec:bla:germec:v:18:y:2017:i:3:p:377-409 is not listed on IDEAS

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • H24 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Personal Income and Other Nonbusiness Taxes and Subsidies

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