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Tax Simplicity and Heterogeneous Learning

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  • Aghion, Philippe
  • Akcigit, Ufuk
  • Lequien, Matthieu
  • Stantcheva, Stefanie

Abstract

We study how strongly individuals respond to tax simplicity and how they learn about the complexities of the tax system. We focus on the self-employed, who can more easily adjust to tax incentives and whose responses directly stem from their own understanding of the tax system. We use new French tax returns data from 1994 to 2012. France serves as a good quasi-laboratory: it has three fiscal regimes -- or modes of taxation-- for the self-employed, which differ in their monetary tax incentives and in their tax simplicity. Two key features are that, first, these regimes are subject to eligibility thresholds; we find large excess masses (bunching) right below the latter. Second, the regimes impact different agents heterogeneously and have changed extensively over time. Taken together, these two key elements give us measures of tax responses (the bunching) as well as the variation needed to jointly estimate a value of tax simplicity and taxable income elasticities. They also give us an opportunity to study how individuals learn about and respond over time to changing policy parameters. We estimate a large value for tax simplicity of up to 650 euros per year per individual depending on the regime and activity. We also find sizable costs of tax complexity; agents are not immediately able to understand what the right regime choice is, leave significant money on the table, and learn over time. The cost of complexity is ``regressive'' in that it affects mostly the uneducated, low income, and low skill agents. Agents who can be viewed as more informed and knowledgable (e.g., the more educated or high-skilled) are more likely to make the correct regime choice and to learn faster.

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  • Aghion, Philippe & Akcigit, Ufuk & Lequien, Matthieu & Stantcheva, Stefanie, 2017. "Tax Simplicity and Heterogeneous Learning," CEPR Discussion Papers 12471, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  • Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:12471
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    2. De Neve, Jan-Emmanuel & Imbert, Clement & Spinnewijn, Johannes & Tsankova, Teodora & Luts, Maarten, 2020. "How to Improve Tax Compliance? Evidence from Population-wide Experiments in Belgium," CAGE Online Working Paper Series 458, Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE).
    3. Jérémy BOCCANFUSO & Antoine FEREY, 2019. "Inattention and the Taxation Bias," Working Papers 2019-16, Center for Research in Economics and Statistics.
    4. Pierce O’Reilly, 2018. "Tax policies for inclusive growth in a changing world," OECD Taxation Working Papers 40, OECD Publishing.
    5. Jan-Emmanuel De Neve & Clément Imbert & Johannes Spinnewijn & Teodora Tsankova & Maarten Luts, 2021. "How to Improve Tax Compliance? Evidence from Population-Wide Experiments in Belgium," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 129(5), pages 1425-1463.
    6. Boris Cournède & Jean-Marc Fournier & Peter Hoeller, 2018. "Public finance structure and inclusive growth," OECD Economic Policy Papers 25, OECD Publishing.
    7. Spencer Bastani & Daniel Waldenström, 2020. "The Ability Gradient in Bunching," CESifo Working Paper Series 8233, CESifo.
    8. Charles Boissel & Adrien Matray, 2021. "Dividend Taxes and the Allocation of Capital," Working Papers 2021-39, Princeton University. Economics Department..
    9. Bastani, Spencer & Giebe, Thomas & Miao, Chizheng, 2020. "Ethnicity and tax filing behavior," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 116(C).
    10. Harju, Jarkko & Matikka, Tuomas & Rauhanen, Timo, 2019. "Compliance costs vs. tax incentives: Why do entrepreneurs respond to size-based regulations?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 173(C), pages 139-164.
    11. Youssef Benzarti & Jarkko Harju & Tuomas Matikka, 2020. "Does Mandating Social Insurance Affect Entrepreneurial Activity?," American Economic Review: Insights, American Economic Association, vol. 2(2), pages 255-268, June.
    12. Bartels, Charlotte & Shupe, Cortnie, 2018. "Drivers of Participation Elasticities across Europe: Gender or Earner Role within the Household?," IZA Discussion Papers 11359, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    13. 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.
    14. Zaresani, Arezou, 2020. "Adjustment cost and incentives to work: Evidence from a disability insurance program," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 188(C).
    15. Bohne, Albrecht & Nimczik, Jan Sebastian, 2018. "Information Frictions and Learning Dynamics: Evidence from Tax Avoidance in Ecuador," IZA Discussion Papers 11536, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    16. Charles Delmotte, 2021. "Simple rules and the Political Economy of Income Taxation: the strengths of a uniform expense rule," European Journal of Law and Economics, Springer, vol. 52(2), pages 323-339, December.
    17. Adrien Matray & Charles Boissel, 2020. "Higher Dividend Taxes, No Problem! Evidence from Taxing Entrepreneurs in France," Working Papers 276, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Center for Economic Policy Studies..
    18. Tourek, Gabriel, 2022. "Targeting in tax behavior: Evidence from Rwandan firms," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 158(C).
    19. He, Daixin & Peng, Langchuan & Wang, Xiaxin, 2021. "Understanding the elasticity of taxable income: A tale of two approaches," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 197(C).
    20. Lensman, Todd & Troshkin, Maxim, 2022. "Implications of uncertainty for optimal policies," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 199(C).
    21. Sydnee Caldwell & Scott Nelson & Daniel C. Waldinger, 2021. "Tax Refund Uncertainty: Evidence and Welfare Implications," Working Papers 2021-18, Becker Friedman Institute for Research In Economics.

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Complexity; entrepreneurship; learning; Self-employment; taxation;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • H21 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Efficiency; Optimal Taxation

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