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Tax bases, tax rates and the elasticity of reported income

  • Wojciech Kopczuk

    ()

    (Columbia University - Department of Economics)

Tax reforms usually change both tax rates and tax bases. Using a panel of income tax returns spanning the two major U.S. tax reforms of the 1980s and a number of smaller tax law changes, I find that the elasticity of income reported on personal income tax returns depends on the available deductions. This highlights that this key behavioral elasticity is not an immutable parameter but rather that it can be to some extent controlled by policy makers. One implication is that base broadening reduces the marginal efficiency cost of taxation. The results are very similar for all income categories indicating that the rich are more responsive to tax rates because tax rules that apply to them are different (their tax base is narrower). The point estimates indicate that the Tax Reform Act of 1986 reduced the marginal cost of collecting a dollar of tax revenue by 2 cents, with roughly half of this reduction due to the base broadening and the other half due to the tax rate reduction. As a by-product, the analysis in this paper offers a reconciliation of disparate estimates obtained by previous studies of the tax responsiveness of income.

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Paper provided by Columbia University, Department of Economics in its series Discussion Papers with number 0304-15.

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Length: 45 pages
Date of creation: 2004
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:clu:wpaper:0304-15
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  1. Wojciech Kopczuk, 2004. "Tax bases, tax rates and the elasticity of reported income," Discussion Papers 0304-15, Columbia University, Department of Economics.
  2. Aarbu, Karl O. & Thoresen, Thor O., 2001. "Income Responses to Tax Changes--Evidence from the Norwegian Tax Reform," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 54(n. 2), pages 319-38, June.
  3. Feldstein, Martin, 1995. "The Effect of Marginal Tax Rates on Taxable Income: A Panel Study of the 1986 Tax Reform Act," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 103(3), pages 551-72, June.
  4. Kopczuk, Wojciech, 2001. "Redistribution when avoidance behavior is heterogeneous," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 81(1), pages 51-71, July.
  5. Wilson, John Douglas, 1989. "On the Optimal Tax Base for Commodity Taxation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 79(5), pages 1196-1206, December.
  6. Feldstein, Martin, 1995. "Effect of Marginal Tax Rates on Taxable Income: A Panel Study of the 1986 Tax Reform Act," Scholarly Articles 2766676, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  7. Slemrod, Joel, 1994. "Fixing the leak in Okun's bucket optimal tax progressivity when avoidance can be controlled," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 55(1), pages 41-51, September.
  8. Gerald E. Auten & Holger Sieg & Charles T. Clotfelter, 2002. "Charitable Giving, Income, and Taxes: An Analysis of Panel Data," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(1), pages 371-382, March.
  9. 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.
  10. Yitzhaki, Shlomo, 1979. "A Note on Optimal Taxation and Administrative Costs," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 69(3), pages 475-80, June.
  11. Joel Slemrod, 2001. "A General Model of the Behavioral Response to Taxation," International Tax and Public Finance, Springer, vol. 8(2), pages 119-128, March.
  12. Slemrod, Joel & Kopczuk, Wojciech, 2002. "The optimal elasticity of taxable income," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 84(1), pages 91-112, April.
  13. Austan Goolsbee, 1999. "Evidence on the High-Income Laffer Curve from Six Decades of Tax Reform," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 30(2), pages 1-64.
  14. Robert A. Moffitt & Mark Wilhelm, 1998. "Taxation and the Labor Supply: Decisions of the Affluent," NBER Working Papers 6621, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  15. Mayshar, Joram, 1991. " Taxation with Costly Administration," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 93(1), pages 75-88.
  16. Mary-Anne Sillamaa & Michael R. Veall, 2000. "The Effect of Marginal Tax Rates on Taxable Income: A Panel Study of the 1988 Tax Flattening in Canada," Social and Economic Dimensions of an Aging Population Research Papers 25, McMaster University.
  17. Martin Feldstein, 1995. "Tax Avoidance and the Deadweight Loss of the Income Tax," NBER Working Papers 5055, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  18. Slemrod, Joel, 1998. "Methodological Issues in Measuring and Interpreting Taxable Income Elasticities," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 51(n. 4), pages 773-88, December.
  19. James E. Long, 1999. "The Impact of Marginal Tax Rates on Taxable Income: Evidence from State Income Tax Differentials," Southern Economic Journal, Southern Economic Association, vol. 65(4), pages 855-869, April.
  20. 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.
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