Are Progressive Fiscal Rules Stabilizing?
This paper studies how income-based, progressive taxes and transfers may reduce aggregate volatility by protecting the economy against expectation-driven business cycles. Eliminating “local” sunspots that are arbitrarily close to an indeterminate steady state requires, for sensible parameter values, strong levels of progressivity so as to make labor supply close to inelastic. However, progressive taxes and transfers are shown to be ineffective to rule out stable deterministic cycles (and the associated “global” sunspots) that are located close to a determinate steady state. Our results are formalized within two benchmark models and show how the efficiency of progressive fiscal schemes as local automatic stabilizers depends on the fiscal base. In the first setting with heterogeneous agents and segmented asset markets in which wage income mostly finances consumption, we show that progressive taxes and transfers should be made dependent on labor income, so as to rule out local indeterminacy. On the contrary, progressive fiscal rules should be applied to capital income in an overlapping generations economy where consumption comes from savings income. Incidentally, the latter results suggest that capital income taxes may be desirable, when progressive, to make local expectation-driven fluctuations less likely. In both frameworks, key to the results is the property that progressive fiscal rules provide insurance in the presence of imperfect capital markets.
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