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A micro-foundation for the Laffer curve in a real effort experiment

  • Louis Lévy-Garboua


    (TEAM - Théories et Applications en Microéconomie et Macroéconomie - CNRS - UP1 - Université Panthéon-Sorbonne, CIRANO - Centre Interuniversitaire de Recherche en ANalyse des Organisations)

  • David Masclet


    (CREM - Centre de Recherche en Economie et Management - CNRS - Université de Caen Basse-Normandie - UR1 - Université de Rennes 1)

  • Claude Montmarquette


    (CIRANO - Centre Interuniversitaire de Recherche en ANalyse des Organisations)

A conjecture of Laffer, which had considerable influence on fiscal doctrine, is that tax revenues of a Leviathan state eventually decrease when the tax rate exceeds a threshold value. We conduct a real effort experiment, in which a "worker" is matched with a non-working partner, to elicit the conditions under which a Laffer curve can be observed. We ran four different treatments by manipulating work opportunities and the power to tax. In the endogenous treatment, the non-working partner chooses a tax rate among the set of possibilities and receives the revenue generated by her choice and the worker's effort response to this tax rate. In the exogenous treatment, the tax rate is randomly selected by the computer and the non-working partner merely receives the revenue from taxes. The Laffer curve phenomenon cannot be observed in the exogenous treatments, but arises in endogenous treatments. Tax revenues are then maximized at a 50% tax rate. We demonstrate that an "efficiency tax" model (with or without inequity aversion) falls short of predicting our experimental Laffer curve but an alternative model of social preferences provides a micro-foundation for the latter. This new model endogenously generates a social norm of fair taxation at a 50% tax rate under asymmetric information about workers' type. Taxpayers manage to enforce this norm by working less whenever it has been violated but do not systematically reward "kind" tax setters. Workers who maximize their expected wealth adjust work to the tax rate equitably so that tax revenues remain at a fair level. Workers who respond affectively to norm violations just refuse to work so that tax revenues are cut down. Workers endowed with higher work opportunities tend to respond more emotionally to unfair taxation in our experiment, which is consistent with the observed Laffer curve and with the history of tax revolts.

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Paper provided by HAL in its series Université Paris1 Panthéon-Sorbonne (Post-Print and Working Papers) with number halshs-00196410.

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Date of creation: Oct 2005
Date of revision:
Publication status: Published in Cahiers de la Maison des Sciences Economiques 2005.71 - ISSN : 1624-0340. 2005
Handle: RePEc:hal:cesptp:halshs-00196410
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  1. Georg Kirchsteiger & Ernst Fehr & Arno Riedl, 1993. "Does Fairness Prevent Market Clearing? An Experimental Investigation," ULB Institutional Repository 2013/5927, ULB -- Universite Libre de Bruxelles.
  2. Fehr, Ernst & Schmidt, Klaus M., 1998. "A Theory of Fairness, Competition and Cooperation," CEPR Discussion Papers 1812, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  3. Guth, Werner & Schmittberger, Rolf & Schwarze, Bernd, 1982. "An experimental analysis of ultimatum bargaining," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 3(4), pages 367-388, December.
  4. Andreoni, James, 1988. "Why free ride? : Strategies and learning in public goods experiments," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 37(3), pages 291-304, December.
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  8. Sillamaa, M. A., 1999. "Taxpayer behavior in response to taxation: comment and new experimental evidence," Journal of Accounting and Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 18(2), pages 165-177.
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  10. Robert Carroll & Warren Hrung, 2005. "What Does the Taxable Income Elasticity Say About Dynamic Responses to Tax Changes?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(2), pages 426-431, May.
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  12. Georg Kirchsteiger & Martin Dufwenberg, 2004. "A theory of sequential reciprocity," ULB Institutional Repository 2013/5899, ULB -- Universite Libre de Bruxelles.
  13. repec:oup:qjecon:v:105:y:1990:i:2:p:255-83 is not listed on IDEAS
  14. Swenson, Charles W., 1988. "Taxpayer behavior in response to taxation: An experimental analysis," Journal of Accounting and Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 7(1), pages 1-28.
  15. Bernard Fortin & Guy Lacroix, 2002. "Assessing the Impact of Tax and Transfer Policies on Labour Supply: A Survey," CIRANO Project Reports 2002rp-10, CIRANO.
  16. Axel Ockenfels & Gary E. Bolton, 2000. "ERC: A Theory of Equity, Reciprocity, and Competition," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(1), pages 166-193, March.
  17. Andereoni, J., 1988. "Why Free Ride? Strategies And Learning In Public Goods Experiments," Working papers 375, Wisconsin Madison - Social Systems.
  18. 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.
  19. Sillamaa, M. A., 1999. "How work effort responds to wage taxation: An experimental test of a zero top marginal tax rate," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 73(1), pages 125-134, July.
  20. Solow, Robert M., 1979. "Another possible source of wage stickiness," Journal of Macroeconomics, Elsevier, vol. 1(1), pages 79-82.
  21. 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.
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