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Optimal Provision of Public Goods: A Synthesis

  • Claus Thustrup Kreiner
  • Nicolaj Verdelin

There currently exist two competing approaches in the literature on the optimal provision of public goods. The standard approach highlights the importance of distortionary taxation and distributional concerns. The new approach neutralizes distributional concerns by adjusting the non-linear income tax, and finds that this reinvigorates the simple Samuelson rule when preferences are separable in goods and leisure. We provide a synthesis by demonstrating that both approaches derive from the same basic formula. We further develop the new approach by deriving a general, intuitive formula for the optimal level of a public good without imposing strong assumptions on preferences. This formula shows that distortionary taxation may have a role to play as in the standard approach. However, the main determinants of optimal provision are completely different and the traditional formula with its emphasis on MCF only obtains in a very special case.

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Paper provided by CESifo Group Munich in its series CESifo Working Paper Series with number 2538.

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Date of creation: 2009
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Handle: RePEc:ces:ceswps:_2538
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  1. Stiglitz, Joseph E & Dasgupta, P, 1971. "Differential Taxation, Public Goods and Economic Efficiency," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 38(114), pages 151-74, April.
  2. Gruber, Jon & Saez, Emmanuel, 2002. "The elasticity of taxable income: evidence and implications," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 84(1), pages 1-32, April.
  3. A. Lans Bovenberg & Bas Jacobs, 2005. "Redistribution and Education Subsidies are Siamese Twins," Tinbergen Institute Discussion Papers 05-036/3, Tinbergen Institute.
  4. Emmanuel Saez, 2000. "The Desirability of Commodity Taxation under Non-Linear Income Taxation and Heterogeneous Tastes," NBER Working Papers 8029, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Louis Kaplow & Steven Shavell, 1997. "On the Superiority of Corrective Taxes to Quantity Regulation," NBER Working Papers 6251, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Kleven, Henrik & Kreiner, Claus Thustrup, 2006. "The Marginal Cost of Public Funds: Hours of Work versus Labor Force Participation," CEPR Discussion Papers 5594, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  7. Gauthier, Stéphane & Laroque, Guy, 2009. "Separability and public finance," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 93(11-12), pages 1168-1174, December.
  8. Blomquist, Sören & Christiansen, Vidar, 2007. "Public Provision of Private Goods and Nondistortionary Marginal Tax Rates," Working Paper Series 2007:7, Uppsala University, Department of Economics.
  9. Gahvari, Firouz, 2006. "On the marginal cost of public funds and the optimal provision of public goods," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 90(6-7), pages 1251-1262, August.
  10. Louis Kaplow, 2004. "On the (Ir)Relevance of Distribution and Labor Supply Distortion to Government Policy," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 18(4), pages 159-175, Fall.
  11. Charles L. Ballard & Don Fullerton, 1992. "Distortionary Taxes and the Provision of Public Goods," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 6(3), pages 117-131, Summer.
  12. Blackorby, Charles & Donaldson, David, 1988. "Cash versus Kind, Self-selection, and Efficient Transfers," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 78(4), pages 691-700, September.
  13. Bovenberg, A Lans & Jacobs, Bas, 2001. "Redistribution and Education Subsidies are Siamese Twins," CEPR Discussion Papers 3099, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  14. Robin Boadway & Michael Keen, 1991. "Public Goods, Self-Selection and Optimal Income Taxation," Working Papers 828, Queen's University, Department of Economics.
  15. Atkinson, Anthony B & Stern, N H, 1974. "Pigou, Taxation and Public Goods," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 41(1), pages 119-28, January.
  16. Hylland, Aanund & Zeckhauser, Richard, 1979. " Distributional Objectives Should Affect Taxes but not Program Choice or Design," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 81(2), pages 264-84.
  17. Saez, Emmanuel, 2001. "Using Elasticities to Derive Optimal Income Tax Rates," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 68(1), pages 205-29, January.
  18. Gordon, Roger & Li, Wei, 2009. "Tax structures in developing countries: Many puzzles and a possible explanation," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 93(7-8), pages 855-866, August.
  19. Louis Kaplow, 2006. "Optimal Control of Externalities in the Presence of Income Taxation," NBER Working Papers 12339, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  20. Browning, Edgar K, 1987. "On the Marginal Welfare Cost of Taxation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 77(1), pages 11-23, March.
  21. repec:dgr:uvatin:2005036 is not listed on IDEAS
  22. Louis Kaplow, 2008. "Optimal Policy with Heterogeneous Preferences," NBER Working Papers 14170, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  23. Slemrod, Joel & Yitzhaki, Shlomo, 2001. "Integrating Expenditure and Tax Decisions: The Marginal Cost of Funds and the Marginal Benefit of Projects," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 54(n. 2), pages 189-202, June.
  24. Christiansen, Vidar, 1981. "Evaluation of Public Projects under Optimal Taxation," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 48(3), pages 447-57, July.
  25. Christiansen, Vidar, 2007. "Two Approaches to Determine Public Good Provision under Distortionary Taxation," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 60(1), pages 25-43, March.
  26. Lawrence H. Goulder & Ian W. H. Parry & Roberton C. Williams III, 2005. "Evaluating Public Goods and Regulations: Comments," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 19(4), pages 233-233, Fall.
  27. Dahlby, Bev, 1998. "Progressive taxation and the social marginal cost of public funds," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 67(1), pages 105-122, January.
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