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Attention Variation and Welfare: Theory and Evidence from a Tax Salience Experiment

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  • Dmitry Taubinsky
  • Alex Rees-Jones

Abstract

This paper shows that accounting for variation in mistakes can be crucial for welfare analysis. Focusing on consumer underreaction to not-fully-salient sales taxes, we show theoretically that the efficiency costs of taxation are amplified by 1) individual differences in under reaction and 2) the degree to which attention is increasing with the size of the tax rate. To empirically assess the importance of these issues, we implement an online shopping experiment in which 2,998 consumers-matching the U.S. adult population on key demographics-purchase common household products, facing tax rates that vary in size and salience. We find that: 1) there are significant individual differences in underreaction to taxes. Accounting for this heterogeneity increases the efficiency cost of taxation estimates by at least 200%, as compared to estimates generated from a representative agent model. 2) Tripling existing sales tax rates roughly doubles consumers' attention to taxes. Our results provide new insights into the mechanisms and determinants of boundedly rational processing of not-fully-salient incentives, and our general approach provides a framework for robust behavioral welfare analysis.

Suggested Citation

  • Dmitry Taubinsky & Alex Rees-Jones, 2016. "Attention Variation and Welfare: Theory and Evidence from a Tax Salience Experiment," Natural Field Experiments 00563, The Field Experiments Website.
  • Handle: RePEc:feb:natura:00563
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Alex Rees-Jones & Dmitry Taubinsky, 2016. "Measuring “Schmeduling”," NBER Working Papers 22884, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Jack, Kelsey & Jayachandran, Seema & Rao, Sarojini, 2018. "Environmental externalities and free-riding in the household," CEPR Discussion Papers 12558, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    3. Gabaix, Xavier, 2016. "A Behavioral New Keynesian Model," CEPR Discussion Papers 11729, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    4. Bastani, Spencer & Giebe, Thomas & Miao, Chizheng, 2019. "Ethnicity and tax filing behavior," MPRA Paper 97047, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    5. Benjamin R. Handel & Jonathan T. Kolstad & Johannes Spinnewijn, 2015. "Information Frictions and Adverse Selection: Policy Interventions in Health Insurance Markets," CESifo Working Paper Series 5623, CESifo Group Munich.
    6. Markus Dertwinkel-Kalt & Mats Köster & Matthias Sutter, 2019. "To Buy or not to Buy? Shrouding and Partitioning of Prices in an Online Shopping Field Experiment," CESifo Working Paper Series 7475, CESifo Group Munich.
    7. repec:tpr:restat:v:101:y:2019:i:2:p:326-340 is not listed on IDEAS
    8. Joan Vilá, 2019. "Respuestas en los ingresos frente a un programa de transferencias monetarias: evidencia de un notch a partir de registros administrativos de Uruguay," Documentos de Trabajo (working papers) 19-07, Instituto de Economia - IECON.
    9. Gerke, Rafael & Hauzenberger, Klemens, 2017. "The Fisher paradox: A primer," Discussion Papers 20/2017, Deutsche Bundesbank.
    10. Handel, Benjamin R. & Kolstad, Jonathan T. & Spinnewijn, Johannes, 2015. "Information frictions and adverse selection: policyinterventions in health insurance markets," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 65011, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    11. Benjamin R. Handel & Jonathan T. Kolstad & Johannes Spinnewijn, 2015. "Information Frictions and Adverse Selection: Policy Interventions in Health Insurance Markets," NBER Working Papers 21759, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    12. Bholat, David & Broughton, Nida & Parker, Alice & Ter Meer, Janna & Walczak, Eryk, 2018. "Enhancing central bank communications with behavioural insights," Bank of England working papers 750, Bank of England.
    13. Xavier Gabaix & David Laibson, 2017. "Myopia and Discounting," NBER Working Papers 23254, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    14. Benjamin R. Handel & Jonathan T. Kolstad & Johannes Spinnewijn, 2015. "Information Frictions and Adverse Selection: Policy Interventions in Health Insurance Markets," CEP Discussion Papers dp1390, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
    15. Houde, Sebastien & Aldy, Joseph E., 2017. "The Efficiency Consequences of Heterogeneous Behavioral Responses to Energy Fiscal Policies," Working Paper Series rwp17-047, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.
    16. Handel, Benjamin R. & Kolstad, Jonathan & Spinnewijn, Johannes, 2015. "Information Frictions and Adverse Selection: Policy Interventions in Health Insurance Markets," CEPR Discussion Papers 10953, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    17. Christine L. Exley & Judd B. Kessler, 2017. "Motivated Errors," Harvard Business School Working Papers 18-017, Harvard Business School, revised May 2018.
    18. Christine L. Exley & Judd Kessler, 2017. "The Better is the Enemy of the Good," Working Papers 2017-068, Human Capital and Economic Opportunity Working Group.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • C9 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments
    • D0 - Microeconomics - - General
    • H0 - Public Economics - - General

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