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Optimal Income Taxation with Adverse Selection in the Labour Market


  • Stefanie Stantcheva


This article studies optimal linear and non-linear redistributive income taxation when there is adverse selection in the labour market. Unlike in standard taxation models, firms do not know workers' abilities, and competitively screen them through non-linear compensation contracts, unobservable to the government, in a Miyazaki–Wilson–Spence equilibrium. Adverse selection leads to different optimal tax formulas than in the standard Mirrlees (1971) model because of the use of work hours as a screening tool by firms, which for higher talent workers results in a “rat race”, and for lower talent workers in informational rents and cross-subsidies. The most surprising result is that, if the government has sufficiently strong redistributive goals, welfare is higher when there is adverse selection than when there is not. Policies that endogenously affect adverse selection are discussed. The model has practical implications for the interpretation, estimation, and use of taxable income elasticities, which are central to optimal tax design.

Suggested Citation

  • Stefanie Stantcheva, 2014. "Optimal Income Taxation with Adverse Selection in the Labour Market," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 81(3), pages 1296-1329.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:restud:v:81:y:2014:i:3:p:1296-1329

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    Cited by:

    1. Bastani, Spencer & Blumkin, Tomer & Micheletto, Luca, 2015. "Optimal wage redistribution in the presence of adverse selection in the labor market," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 131(C), pages 41-57.
    2. Carlos E. da Costa & Lucas J. Maestri, 2019. "Optimal Mirrleesian taxation in non-competitive labor markets," Economic Theory, Springer;Society for the Advancement of Economic Theory (SAET), vol. 68(4), pages 845-886, November.
    3. Laurence Ales & Christopher Sleet, 2016. "Taxing Top CEO Incomes," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 106(11), pages 3331-3366, November.
    4. Bergemann, Dirk & Pavan, Alessandro, 2015. "Introduction to Symposium on Dynamic Contracts and Mechanism Design," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 159(PB), pages 679-701.
    5. Thomas Aronsson & Luca Micheletto, 2017. "Optimal Redistributive Income Taxation and Efficiency Wages," Working Papers 107, "Carlo F. Dondena" Centre for Research on Social Dynamics (DONDENA), Università Commerciale Luigi Bocconi.
    6. Bastani, Spencer & Blumkin, Tomer & Micheletto, Luca, 2016. "Anti-discrimination Legislation and the Efficiency-Enhancing Role of Mandatory Parental Leave," Working Paper Series 2016:7, Uppsala University, Department of Economics.
    7. Anqi Li & Yiqing Xing, 2018. "Intermediated Implementation," Papers 1810.11475,, revised Jan 2020.
    8. Spencer Bastani & Tomer Blumkin & Luca Micheletto, 2016. "Anti-discrimination Legislation and the Efficiency-Enhancing Role of Mandatory Parental Leave," CESifo Working Paper Series 5917, CESifo Group Munich.
    9. repec:cpr:ceprdp:14063 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. Hanna, Rema & Olken, Benjamin A., 2018. "Universal Basic Incomes vs. Targeted Transfers: Anti-Poverty Programs in Developing Countries," Working Paper Series rwp18-024, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.
    11. Aronsson, Thomas & Micheletto, Luca, 2017. "Optimal Redistributive Income Taxation and Efficiency Wages," Umeå Economic Studies 953, Umeå University, Department of Economics.
    12. Lawson, Nicholas, 2019. "Taxing the job creators: Efficient taxation with bargaining in hierarchical firms," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 56(C), pages 1-25.
    13. Bouton, Laurent & Lizzeri, Alessandro & Persico, Nicola, 2016. "The Political Economy of Debt and Entitlements," CEPR Discussion Papers 11459, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    14. Gerritsen, Aart, 2016. "Optimal taxation when people do not maximize well-being," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 144(C), pages 122-139.
    15. Dirk Bergemann & Alessandro Pavan, 2015. "Introduction to JET Symposium Issue on "Dynamic Contracts and Mechanism Design"," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 2016, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University.

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