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Tax Reform and Automatic Stabilization

Author

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  • Thomas J. Kniesner

    (Syracuse University)

  • James P. Ziliak

    (University of Wisconsin-Madison)

Abstract

A fundamental property of a progressive income tax is that it provides implicit collective insurance against idiosyncratic shocks to income by dampening the variability of disposable income and consumption. The Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981 (ERTA) and the Tax Reform Act of 1986 (TRA86) greatly reduced the number of marginal tax brackets and the maximum marginal rate, which limits the ability of households to stabilize consumption in the face of transitory fluctuations in taxable income. We examine the effect of the federal income tax reforms of the 1980s on the associated degree of automatic stabilization of consumption. The empirical framework derives from the consumption insurance literature where the ideal outcome is spatially equal changes in households' marginal utilities of consumption. Because evidence for U.S. households rejects complete consumption insurance we begin with a model of partial consumption insurance, which we use to identify how the degree of partial insurance has changed since ERTA and TRA86. Our data come from interview years 1980-1991 in the Panel Study of Income Dynamics. Although in some cases the tax reforms of the 1980s actually increased the automatic stabilization inherent in a progressive income tax (especially when the Social Security payroll tax and the Earned Income Tax Credit are included), our overall outcome is that ERTA and TRA86 reduced consumption stability by about 50 percent. More recent tax reforms, most notably increased EITC generosity, have restored or enhanced consumption insurance.

Suggested Citation

  • Thomas J. Kniesner & James P. Ziliak, 2000. "Tax Reform and Automatic Stabilization," Econometric Society World Congress 2000 Contributed Papers 0788, Econometric Society.
  • Handle: RePEc:ecm:wc2000:0788
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    JEL classification:

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

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