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Can Redistributive State Taxes Reduce Inequality?

  • Andrew Leigh

Do income taxes levied at a state or regional level affect the after-tax distribution of income? Or do workers merely move between regions, causing pre-tax wages to adjust? This question is relevant both in across states in the United States, and across countries within the European Union. Using the full income tax parameters for all US states from 1977-2002, I create a “simulated tax redistribution index”, which captures the mechanical impact of the changes in tax policy on the gini coefficient, but is exogenous to any behavioral response. Analyzing the effect of this redistribution index on inequality, I find that gross wages do not adjust so as to fully offset the effect of more redistributive taxes. Exploring the adjustment process further, I create a new class of tax redistribution measures, based on the S-Gini, which differentially weight effects at the bottom and top of the distribution, and conclude that neither taxes that particularly affect the rich or the poor seem to affect the distribution of wages. Redistributive taxes do not appear to affect interstate migration or total state personal income. From a political economy perspective, I also find some evidence that more inequality leads states to implement more redistributive taxes, which may help explain why earlier studies observed a positive relationship between redistribution and inequality.

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File URL: https://www.cbe.anu.edu.au/researchpapers/cepr/DP490.pdf
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Paper provided by Centre for Economic Policy Research, Research School of Economics, Australian National University in its series CEPR Discussion Papers with number 490.

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Length: 30 pages
Date of creation: Apr 2005
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:auu:dpaper:490
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  1. Andrew Leigh, 2005. "Who Benefits from the Earned Income Tax Credit? Incidence Among Recipients, Coworkers and Firms," CEPR Discussion Papers 494, Centre for Economic Policy Research, Research School of Economics, Australian National University.
  2. Daniel Feenberg & Elisabeth Coutts, 1993. "An introduction to the TAXSIM model," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 12(1), pages 189-194.
  3. Harris, John R & Todaro, Michael P, 1970. "Migration, Unemployment & Development: A Two-Sector Analysis," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 60(1), pages 126-42, March.
  4. Martin Feldstein & Marian Vaillant, 1994. "Can State Taxes Redistribute Income?," NBER Working Papers 4785, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Jon Bakija & Joel Slemrod, 2004. "Do the Rich Flee from High State Taxes? Evidence from Federal Estate Tax Returns," Department of Economics Working Papers 2004-12, Department of Economics, Williams College.
  6. Alberto Alesina & Reza Baqir & William Easterly, 1999. "Public Goods And Ethnic Divisions," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 114(4), pages 1243-1284, November.
  7. Donaldson, David & Weymark, John A., 1980. "A single-parameter generalization of the Gini indices of inequality," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 22(1), pages 67-86, February.
  8. Barrett, Garry F. & Donald, Stephen G., 2009. "Statistical Inference with Generalized Gini Indices of Inequality, Poverty, and Welfare," Journal of Business & Economic Statistics, American Statistical Association, vol. 27, pages 1-17.
  9. Marianne Bertrand & Esther Duflo & Sendhil Mullainathan, 2004. "How Much Should We Trust Differences-in-Differences Estimates?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 119(1), pages 249-275, February.
  10. Ričardas Zitikis & Joseph L. Gastwirth, 2002. "The Asymptotic Distribution of the S-Gini Index," Australian & New Zealand Journal of Statistics, Australian Statistical Publishing Association Inc., vol. 44(4), pages 439-446, December.
  11. Joshua L. Rosenbloom & William A. Sundstrom, 2003. "The Decline and Rise of Interstate Migration in the United States: Evidence from the IPUMS, 1850-1990," NBER Working Papers 9857, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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