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Optimal Taxation in Theory and Practice

Author

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  • N. Gregory Mankiw

    (Harvard University, Economic Department)

  • Matthew C. Weinzierl

    (Harvard Business School, Business, Government and the International Economy Unit)

  • Danny Yagan

    (Harvard University, Grad School of Arts and Sciences, Faculty of Arts and Sciences)

Abstract

We highlight and explain eight lessons from optimal tax theory and compare them to the last few decades of OECD tax policy. As recommended by theory, top marginal income tax rates have declined, marginal income tax schedules have flattened, redistribution has risen with income inequality, and commodity taxes are more uniform and are typically assessed on final goods. However, trends in capital taxation are mixed, and capital income tax rates remain well above the zero level recommended by theory. Moreover, some of theory's more subtle prescriptions, such as taxes that involve personal characteristics, asset-testing, and history-dependence, remain rare in practice. Where large gaps between theory and policy remain, the difficult question is whether policymakers need to learn more from theorists, or the other way around.

Suggested Citation

  • N. Gregory Mankiw & Matthew C. Weinzierl & Danny Yagan, 2009. "Optimal Taxation in Theory and Practice," Harvard Business School Working Papers 09-140, Harvard Business School.
  • Handle: RePEc:hbs:wpaper:09-140
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    JEL classification:

    • H21 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Efficiency; Optimal Taxation
    • H24 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Personal Income and Other Nonbusiness Taxes and Subsidies
    • H25 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Business Taxes and Subsidies

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