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How Progessive is the US Federal Tax System? An Historical and International Perspective

  • Piketty, Thomas
  • Saez, Emmanuel

This paper provides estimates of federal tax rates by income groups in the United States since 1960, with special emphasis on very top income groups. We include individual and corporate income taxes, payroll taxes, and estate and gift taxes. The progressivity of the U.S. federal tax system at the top of the income distribution has declined dramatically since the 1960s. This dramatic drop in progressivity is due primarily to a drop in corporate taxes and in estate and gift taxes combined with a sharp change in the composition of top incomes away from capital income and toward labour income. The sharp drop in statutory top marginal individual income tax rates has contributed only moderately to the decline in tax progressivity. International comparisons confirm that is it critical to take into account other taxes than the individual income tax to properly assess the extent of overall tax progressivity, both for time trends and for cross-country comparisons. The pattern for the United Kingdom is similar to the US pattern. France had less progressive taxes than the US or UK in 1970 but has experienced an increase in tax progressivity and has now a more progressive tax system than the US or the UK.

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Paper provided by C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers in its series CEPR Discussion Papers with number 5778.

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Date of creation: Jul 2006
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:5778
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  1. Feldstein, Martin, 1988. "Imputing Corporate Tax Liabilities to Individual Taxpayers," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 41(1), pages 37-59, March.
  2. Emmanuel Saez, 2004. "Reported Incomes and Marginal Tax Rates, 1960-2000: Evidence and Policy Implications," NBER Working Papers 10273, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Alan J. Auerbach, 2006. "Who Bears the Corporate Tax? A Review of What We Know," NBER Chapters, in: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 20, pages 1-40 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. 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.
  5. Thomas Piketty, 2003. "Income Inequality in France, 1901-1998," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 111(5), pages 1004-1042, October.
  6. Thomas Piketty & Emmanuel Saez, 2007. "How Progressive is the U.S. Federal Tax System? A Historical and International Perspective," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 21(1), pages 3-24, Winter.
  7. Martin Feldstein, 1987. "Imputing Corporate Tax Liabilities to Individual Taxpayers," NBER Working Papers 2349, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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