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The Optimality of Tax Transfers: What does Life Satisfaction Data Tell Us?

  • Paul Frijters
  • David Johnston

    ()

  • Michael Shields

This paper addresses an important policy question: who gets the largest utility gain from income and does the tax system adequately reflect this? We address this question by using Australian panel data and taking life satisfaction as a proxy for utility, allowing us to identify the marginal utility of additional income for different groups of individuals. We find that optimal transfers consist of transfers from the old to the middle aged, and from the married to the unmarried. This optimal utilitarian welfare policy is then contrasted with information on who actually receives transfers and who pays for them in Australia, where we find that taxes are too high for some groups, like the young, and that they are too low for other groups, like the elderly. We believe that the methodology developed in this paper could be fruitfully applied to the issue of optimal taxation in other countries. Copyright Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

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File URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10.1007/s10902-011-9293-3
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Article provided by Springer in its journal Journal of Happiness Studies.

Volume (Year): 13 (2012)
Issue (Month): 5 (October)
Pages: 821-832

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Handle: RePEc:spr:jhappi:v:13:y:2012:i:5:p:821-832
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  1. Simon Luechinger & Stephan Meier & Alois Stutzer, 2006. "Bureaucratic Rents and Life Satisfaction," IEW - Working Papers 269, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
  2. Winkelmann, Liliana & Winkelmann, Rainer, 1998. "Why Are the Unemployed So Unhappy? Evidence from Panel Data," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 65(257), pages 1-15, February.
  3. Anton Hallam & Ernst Juerg Weber, 2007. "Labour Taxes and Work Hours in Australia," Economics Discussion / Working Papers 07-09, The University of Western Australia, Department of Economics.
  4. Emmanuel Saez, 2000. "Using Elasticities to Derive Optimal Income Tax Rates," NBER Working Papers 7628, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  6. Nicole Watson & Mark Wooden, 2004. "The HILDA Survey Four Years On," Australian Economic Review, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, vol. 37(3), pages 343-349, 09.
  7. Dagney Faulk & Jorge Martinez-Vazquez & Sally Wallace, 2007. "Using Human Capital Theory to Establish a Potential Income Tax," International Center for Public Policy Working Paper Series, at AYSPS, GSU paper0710, International Center for Public Policy, Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, Georgia State University.
  8. Bruno S. Frey & Simon Luechinger & Alois Stutzer, 2004. "Calculating Tragedy: Assessing the Costs of Terrorism," CREMA Working Paper Series 2004-23, Center for Research in Economics, Management and the Arts (CREMA).
  9. Bruno S. Frey & Alois Stutzer, . "What can Economists Learn from Happiness Research?," IEW - Working Papers 080, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
  10. Andrew Clark & Ed Diener & Yannis Georgellis & Richard E. Lucas, 2003. "Lags and Leads in Life Satisfaction: A Test of the Baseline Hypothesis," DELTA Working Papers 2003-14, DELTA (Ecole normale supérieure).
  11. Frijters, Paul & Gregory, Bob, 2006. "From Golden Age to Golden Age: Australia's "Great Leap Forward"?," IZA Discussion Papers 2068, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  12. van Praag, Bernard M. S. & Baarsma, Barbara E., 2004. "Using Happiness Surveys to Value Intangibles: The Case of Airport Noise," IZA Discussion Papers 1096, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  13. Clark, Andrew E. & Frijters, Paul & Shields, Michael A., 2007. "Relative Income, Happiness and Utility: An Explanation for the Easterlin Paradox and Other Puzzles," IZA Discussion Papers 2840, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  14. Layard, R. & Mayraz, G. & Nickell, S., 2008. "The marginal utility of income," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 92(8-9), pages 1846-1857, August.
  15. Rafael Di Tella & Robert MacCulloch, 2006. "Some Uses of Happiness Data in Economics," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 20(1), pages 25-46, Winter.
  16. Bernard M.S. van Praag & Paul Frijters, 1999. "The measurement of welfare and well-being; the Leyden approach," School of Economics and Finance Discussion Papers and Working Papers Series 071a, School of Economics and Finance, Queensland University of Technology.
  17. Ada Ferrer-i-Carbonell & Bernard M. S. van Praag, 2001. "The Subjective Costs of Health Losses Due to Chronic Diseases: An Alternative Model for Monetary Appraisal," Discussion Papers of DIW Berlin 262, DIW Berlin, German Institute for Economic Research.
  18. Nick Carroll & Paul Frijters & Michael Shields, 2009. "Quantifying the costs of drought: new evidence from life satisfaction data," Journal of Population Economics, Springer, vol. 22(2), pages 445-461, April.
  19. Bruno Frey & Simon Luechinger & Alois Stutzer, 2009. "The life satisfaction approach to valuing public goods: The case of terrorism," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 138(3), pages 317-345, March.
  20. Alois Stutzer & Bruno S. Frey, 2008. "Stress that Doesn't Pay: The Commuting Paradox," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 110(2), pages 339-366, 06.
  21. Plug, Erik J. S. & van Praag, Bernard M. S. & Hartog, Joop, 1999. "If we knew ability, how would we tax individuals?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 72(2), pages 183-211, May.
  22. 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.
  23. Paul Frijters & John P. Haisken-DeNew & Michael A. Shields, 2004. "Money Does Matter! Evidence from Increasing Real Income and Life Satisfaction in East Germany Following Reunification," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(3), pages 730-740, June.
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