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On the Optimal Progressivity of the Income Tax Code

  • Juan Carlos Conesa

    (Universitat de Barcelona and CREB)

  • Dirk Krueger

    (Stanford University)

This paper computes the optimal progressivity of the income tax code in a dynamic general equilibrium model with household heterogeneity in which uninsurable labor productivity risk gives rise to a nontrivial income and wealth distribution. A progressive tax system serves as a partial substitute for missing insurance markets and enhances an equal distribution of economic welfare. These beneficial effects of a progressive tax system have to be traded o¤ against the e¢ciency loss arising from distorting endogenous labor supply and capital accumulation decisions. A determination of the optimal progressivity of the income tax code therefore calls for a quantitative exploration. Using a utilitarian steady state social welfare criterion we find that the optimal US income tax is well approximated by a flat tax rate of 19.5% and a fixed deduction of about $3,700: The steady state welfare gains from a fundamental tax reform towards this tax system are equivalent to 0.4% higher consumption in each state of the world. An explicit computation of the transition path induced by a reform of the current towards the optimal tax system indicates, however, that a majority of the population currently alive would suffer welfare losses, calling into question the political feasibility of such fundamental income tax reform.

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Paper provided by Centro de Altisimos Estudios Rios Perez (CAERP) in its series Centro de Alti­simos Estudios Ri­os Pe©rez(CAERP) with number 4.

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Length: 24 pages
Date of creation: Jun 2002
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:cae:caerpp:4
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  3. Huggett, Mark, 1993. "The risk-free rate in heterogeneous-agent incomplete-insurance economies," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 17(5-6), pages 953-969.
  4. Juan C. Conesa & Dirk Krueger, 2004. "Taxing Capital: Not a Bad Idea After All," 2004 Meeting Papers 403, Society for Economic Dynamics.
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  10. Ana Castaneda & Javier Diaz-Gimenez & Jose-Victor Rios-Rull, 2003. "Accounting for the U.S. Earnings and Wealth Inequality," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 111(4), pages 818-857, August.
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