IDEAS home Printed from https://ideas.repec.org/a/ucp/tpolec/doi10.1086-697139.html
   My bibliography  Save this article

Taxing Humans: Pitfalls of the Mechanism Design Approach and Potential Resolutions

Author

Listed:
  • Alex Rees-Jones
  • Dmitry Taubinsky

Abstract

A growing body of evidence suggests that psychological biases can lead different implementations of otherwise equivalent tax incentives to result in meaningfully different behaviors. We argue that in the presence of such failures of "implementation invariance," decoupling the question of optimal feasible allocations from the tax system used to induce them--the "mechanism design approach" to tax analysis--cannot be the right approach to analyzing optimal tax systems. After reviewing the diverse psychologies that lead to failures of implementation invariance, we illustrate our argument by formally deriving three basic lessons that arise in the presence of these biases. First, the mechanism design approach neither estimates nor bounds the welfare computed under psychologically realistic assumptions about individuals' responses to the tax instruments used in practice. Second, the optimal allocations from abstract mechanisms may not be implementable with concrete tax policies, and vice versa. Third, the integration of these biases may mitigate the importance of information asymmetries, resulting in optimal tax formulas more closely approximated by classical Ramsey results. We conclude by proposing that a "behavioral" extension of the "sufficient statistics" approach is a more fruitful way forward in the presence of such psychological biases.

Suggested Citation

  • Alex Rees-Jones & Dmitry Taubinsky, 2018. "Taxing Humans: Pitfalls of the Mechanism Design Approach and Potential Resolutions," Tax Policy and the Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 32(1), pages 107-133.
  • Handle: RePEc:ucp:tpolec:doi:10.1086/697139
    DOI: 10.1086/697139
    as

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/697139
    Download Restriction: Access to the online full text or PDF requires a subscription.

    File URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/697139
    Download Restriction: Access to the online full text or PDF requires a subscription.

    File URL: https://libkey.io/10.1086/697139?utm_source=ideas
    LibKey link: if access is restricted and if your library uses this service, LibKey will redirect you to where you can use your library subscription to access this item
    ---><---

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to look for a different version below or search for a different version of it.

    Other versions of this item:

    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Jacob Goldin & Tatiana Homonoff, 2013. "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: Cigarette Tax Salience and Regressivity," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 5(1), pages 302-336, February.
    2. Benjamin R. Handel & Jonathan T. Kolstad & Johannes Spinnewijn, 2019. "Information Frictions and Adverse Selection: Policy Interventions in Health Insurance Markets," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 101(2), pages 326-340, May.
    3. Peter Diamond & Emmanuel Saez, 2011. "The Case for a Progressive Tax: From Basic Research to Policy Recommendations," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 25(4), pages 165-190, Fall.
    4. Raj Chetty & Emmanuel Saez, 2013. "Teaching the Tax Code: Earnings Responses to an Experiment with EITC Recipients," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 5(1), pages 1-31, January.
    5. Johannes Spinnewijn, 2017. "Heterogeneity, Demand for Insurance, and Adverse Selection," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 9(1), pages 308-343, February.
    6. Kirchler,Erich, 2007. "The Economic Psychology of Tax Behaviour," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521876742.
    7. Benjamin M. Miller & Kevin J. Mumford, 2015. "The Salience of Complex Tax Changes: Evidence From the Child and Dependent Care Credit Expansion," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association;National Tax Journal, vol. 68(3), pages 477-510, September.
    8. Saez, Emmanuel, 2002. "The desirability of commodity taxation under non-linear income taxation and heterogeneous tastes," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 83(2), pages 217-230, February.
    9. Hunt Allcott & Dmitry Taubinsky, 2015. "Evaluating Behaviorally Motivated Policy: Experimental Evidence from the Lightbulb Market," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 105(8), pages 2501-2538, August.
    10. 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.
    11. Raj Chetty & Adam Looney & Kory Kroft, 2009. "Salience and Taxation: Theory and Evidence," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 99(4), pages 1145-1177, September.
    12. Goldin, Jacob, 2015. "Optimal tax salience," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 131(C), pages 115-123.
    13. Benjamin R. Handel & Jonathan T. Kolstad, 2015. "Health Insurance for "Humans": Information Frictions, Plan Choice, and Consumer Welfare," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 105(8), pages 2449-2500, August.
    14. Per Engström & Katarina Nordblom & Henry Ohlsson & Annika Persson, 2015. "Tax Compliance and Loss Aversion," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 7(4), pages 132-164, November.
    15. de Bartolome, Charles A. M., 1995. "Which tax rate do people use: Average or marginal?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 56(1), pages 79-96, January.
    16. Alex Rees-Jones & Dmitry Taubinsky, 2020. "Measuring “Schmeduling”," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 87(5), pages 2399-2438.
    17. B. Douglas Bernheim & Antonio Rangel, 2009. "Beyond Revealed Preference: Choice-Theoretic Foundations for Behavioral Welfare Economics," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 124(1), pages 51-104.
    18. Avinatan Hassidim & Assaf Romm & Ran I. Shorrer, 2016. ""Strategic" Behavior in a Strategy-Proof Environment," Working Paper 413411, Harvard University OpenScholar.
    19. Golosov, Mikhail & Troshkin, Maxim & Tsyvinski, Aleh & Weinzierl, Matthew, 2013. "Preference heterogeneity and optimal capital income taxation," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 97(C), pages 160-175.
    20. Raj Chetty & John N. Friedman & Emmanuel Saez, 2013. "Using Differences in Knowledge across Neighborhoods to Uncover the Impacts of the EITC on Earnings," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 103(7), pages 2683-2721, December.
    21. Gerritsen, Aart, 2016. "Optimal taxation when people do not maximize well-being," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 144(C), pages 122-139.
    22. Naomi E. Feldman & Peter Katuš?ák & Laura Kawano, 2016. "Taxpayer Confusion: Evidence from the Child Tax Credit," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 106(3), pages 807-835, March.
    23. Myerson, Roger B, 1979. "Incentive Compatibility and the Bargaining Problem," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 47(1), pages 61-73, January.
    24. Fujii, Edwin T & Hawley, Clifford B, 1988. "On the Accuracy of Tax Perceptions," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 70(2), pages 344-347, May.
    25. David Gill & Victoria Prowse, 2012. "A Structural Analysis of Disappointment Aversion in a Real Effort Competition," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 102(1), pages 469-503, February.
    26. Emmanuel Saez, 2001. "Using Elasticities to Derive Optimal Income Tax Rates," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 68(1), pages 205-229.
    27. Raj Chetty, 2009. "Sufficient Statistics for Welfare Analysis: A Bridge Between Structural and Reduced-Form Methods," Annual Review of Economics, Annual Reviews, vol. 1(1), pages 451-488, May.
    28. Atkinson, A. B. & Stiglitz, J. E., 1976. "The design of tax structure: Direct versus indirect taxation," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 6(1-2), pages 55-75.
    29. Emmanuel Farhi & Xavier Gabaix, 2020. "Optimal Taxation with Behavioral Agents," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 110(1), pages 298-336, January.
    30. Joel Slemrod & Jon Bakija, 2008. "Taxing Ourselves, 4th Edition: A Citizen's Guide to the Debate over Taxes," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262693631, December.
    31. Alex Rees-Jones, 2018. "Quantifying Loss-Averse Tax Manipulation," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 85(2), pages 1251-1278.
    32. Diamond, P. A., 1975. "A many-person Ramsey tax rule," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 4(4), pages 335-342, November.
    33. Johannes Abeler & Simon Jäger, 2015. "Complex Tax Incentives," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 7(3), pages 1-28, August.
    34. Kagel, John H & Harstad, Ronald M & Levin, Dan, 1987. "Information Impact and Allocation Rules in Auctions with Affiliated Private Values: A Laboratory Study," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 55(6), pages 1275-1304, November.
    35. Benjamin R. Handel, 2013. "Adverse Selection and Inertia in Health Insurance Markets: When Nudging Hurts," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 103(7), pages 2643-2682, December.
    36. Ravi Kanbur & Jukka Pirttilä & Matti Tuomala, 2008. "Moral Hazard, Income Taxation and Prospect Theory," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 110(2), pages 321-337, June.
    37. Koichiro Ito, 2014. "Do Consumers Respond to Marginal or Average Price? Evidence from Nonlinear Electricity Pricing," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 104(2), pages 537-563, February.
    38. Amy Finkelstein, 2009. "E-ztax: Tax Salience and Tax Rates," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 124(3), pages 969-1010.
    39. Timothy N. Cason & Charles R. Plott, 2014. "Misconceptions and Game Form Recognition: Challenges to Theories of Revealed Preference and Framing," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 122(6), pages 1235-1270.
    40. Stiglitz, Joseph E., 1982. "Self-selection and Pareto efficient taxation," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 17(2), pages 213-240, March.
    41. Rees-Jones, Alex, 2018. "Suboptimal behavior in strategy-proof mechanisms: Evidence from the residency match," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 108(C), pages 317-330.
    42. Saurabh Bhargava & Dayanand Manoli, 2015. "Psychological Frictions and the Incomplete Take-Up of Social Benefits: Evidence from an IRS Field Experiment," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 105(11), pages 3489-3529, November.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    Citations

    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.
    as


    Cited by:

    1. Shin, Jinwook & Kim, Kookdong, 2022. "Limited attention in beverage choice: Evidence from a field experiment1," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 96(C).
    2. Benjamin B. Lockwood & Afras Sial & Matthew Weinzierl, 2020. "Designing, Not Checking, for Policy Robustness: An Example with Optimal Taxation," NBER Chapters, in: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 35, pages 1-54, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

    Most related items

    These are the items that most often cite the same works as this one and are cited by the same works as this one.
    1. Alex Rees-Jones & Dmitry Taubinsky, 2020. "Measuring “Schmeduling”," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 87(5), pages 2399-2438.
    2. Gerritsen, Aart, 2016. "Optimal taxation when people do not maximize well-being," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 144(C), pages 122-139.
    3. Felix Bierbrauer, 2016. "Effizienz oder Gerechtigkeit? Ungleiche Einkommen, ungleiche Vermögen und die Theorie der optimalen Besteuerung," Discussion Paper Series of the Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods 2016_03, Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods.
    4. Bierbrauer Felix J., 2016. "Effizienz oder Gerechtigkeit?," Perspektiven der Wirtschaftspolitik, De Gruyter, vol. 17(1), pages 2-24, April.
    5. Emmanuel Farhi & Xavier Gabaix, 2020. "Optimal Taxation with Behavioral Agents," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 110(1), pages 298-336, January.
    6. Dmitry Taubinsky & Alex Rees-Jones, 2018. "Attention Variation and Welfare: Theory and Evidence from a Tax Salience Experiment," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 85(4), pages 2462-2496.
    7. Xavier Gabaix, 2017. "Behavioral Inattention," NBER Working Papers 24096, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Raj Chetty, 2015. "Behavioral Economics and Public Policy: A Pragmatic Perspective," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 105(5), pages 1-33, May.
    9. Andreas R. Kostøl & Andreas S. Myhre, 2021. "Labor Supply Responses to Learning the Tax and Benefit Schedule," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 111(11), pages 3733-3766, November.
    10. Johannes Becker & Jonas Fooken & Melanie Steinhoff, 2019. "Behavioral Effects of Withholding Taxes on Labor Supply," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 121(4), pages 1417-1440, October.
    11. Spencer Bastani & Daniel Waldenström, 2020. "How Should Capital Be Taxed?," Journal of Economic Surveys, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 34(4), pages 812-846, September.
    12. Koichiro Ito, 2014. "Do Consumers Respond to Marginal or Average Price? Evidence from Nonlinear Electricity Pricing," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 104(2), pages 537-563, February.
    13. Johannes Abeler & Simon Jäger, 2013. "Complex Tax Incentives - An Experimental Investigation," CESifo Working Paper Series 4231, CESifo.
    14. Blesse, Sebastian, 2021. "Are your tax problems an opportunity not to pay taxes? Evidence from a randomized survey experiment," ZEW Discussion Papers 21-040, ZEW - Leibniz Centre for European Economic Research.
    15. Bastani, Spencer & Giebe, Thomas & Miao, Chizheng, 2020. "Ethnicity and tax filing behavior," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 116(C).
    16. Waldenström, Daniel & Bastani, Spencer, 2020. "The Ability Gradient in Bunching," Working Paper Series 1333, Research Institute of Industrial Economics.
    17. Andrea Morone & Francesco Nemore & Simone Nuzzo, 2018. "Experimental evidence on tax salience and tax incidence," Journal of Public Economic Theory, Association for Public Economic Theory, vol. 20(4), pages 582-612, August.
    18. repec:hrv:faseco:34330194 is not listed on IDEAS
    19. Raj Chetty, 2009. "The Simple Economics of Salience and Taxation," NBER Working Papers 15246, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    20. Hirofumi Kurokawa & Tomoharu Mori & Fumio Ohtake, 2016. "A Choice Experiment on Taxes: Are Income and Consumption Taxes Equivalent?," ISER Discussion Paper 0966, Institute of Social and Economic Research, Osaka University.
    21. Traxler, Christian & Westermaier, Franz G. & Wohlschlegel, Ansgar, 2018. "Bunching on the Autobahn? Speeding responses to a ‘notched’ penalty scheme," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 157(C), pages 78-94.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D03 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Behavioral Microeconomics: Underlying Principles
    • D6 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics
    • H0 - Public Economics - - General
    • H2 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue
    • H21 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Efficiency; Optimal Taxation

    Statistics

    Access and download statistics

    Corrections

    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:ucp:tpolec:doi:10.1086/697139. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: . General contact details of provider: https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/TPE .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a bibliographic reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: Journals Division (email available below). General contact details of provider: https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/TPE .

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.