IDEAS home Printed from https://ideas.repec.org/p/hbs/wpaper/14-119.html
   My bibliography  Save this paper

Positive and Normative Judgments Implicit in U.S. Tax Policy, and the Costs of Unequal Growth and Recessions

Author

Listed:
  • Benjamin B. Lockwood

    () (Harvard University)

  • Matthew Weinzierl

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

Abstract

Calculating the welfare implications of changes to economic policy or shocks to the economy requires economists to decide on a normative criterion. One way to make that decision is to elicit the relevant moral criteria from real-world policy choices, converting a normative decision into a positive inference exercise as in, for example, the recent surge of so-called "inverse-optimum" research. We find that capitalizing on the potential of this approach is not as straightforward as we might hope. We perform the inverse- optimum inference on U.S. tax policy from 1979 through 2010 and identify two broad explanations for its evolution. These explanations, however, either undermine the reliability of the inference exercise's conclusions or challenge conventional assumptions upon which economists routinely rely when performing welfare evaluations. We emphasize the need for better evidence on society's positive and normative judgments in order to resolve the questions these findings raise.

Suggested Citation

  • Benjamin B. Lockwood & Matthew Weinzierl, 2014. "Positive and Normative Judgments Implicit in U.S. Tax Policy, and the Costs of Unequal Growth and Recessions," Harvard Business School Working Papers 14-119, Harvard Business School, revised Oct 2014.
  • Handle: RePEc:hbs:wpaper:14-119
    as

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL: http://www.hbs.edu/faculty/pages/download.aspx?name=14-119.pdf
    Download Restriction: no
    ---><---

    Other versions of this item:

    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Raj Chetty, 2009. "Is the Taxable Income Elasticity Sufficient to Calculate Deadweight Loss? The Implications of Evasion and Avoidance," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 1(2), pages 31-52, August.
    2. Peter Diamond & Emmanuel Saez, 2011. "The Case for a Progressive Tax: From Basic Research to Policy Recommendations," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 25(4), pages 165-190, Fall.
    3. Olivier Bargain & Mathias Dolls & Dirk Neumann & Andreas Peichl & Sebastian Siegloch, 2014. "Comparing inequality aversion across countries when labor supply responses differ," International Tax and Public Finance, Springer;International Institute of Public Finance, vol. 21(5), pages 845-873, October.
    4. 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.
    5. Bargain, Olivier & Peichl, Andreas, 2013. "Steady-state labor supply elasticities: A survey," ZEW Discussion Papers 13-084, ZEW - Leibniz Centre for European Economic Research.
    6. Bradley T. Heim, 2007. "The Incredible Shrinking Elasticities: Married Female Labor Supply, 1978–2002," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 42(4).
    7. Emmanuel Saez & Stefanie Stantcheva, 2016. "Generalized Social Marginal Welfare Weights for Optimal Tax Theory," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 106(1), pages 24-45, January.
    8. Olivier Bargain & Claire Keane, 2010. "Tax–Benefit‐revealed Redistributive Preferences Over Time: Ireland 1987–2005," LABOUR, CEIS, vol. 24(s1), pages 141-167, December.
    9. Lockwood, Benjamin B. & Weinzierl, Matthew, 2015. "De Gustibus non est Taxandum: Heterogeneity in preferences and optimal redistribution," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 124(C), pages 74-80.
    10. Matthew Weinzierl, 2011. "The Surprising Power of Age-Dependent Taxes," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 78(4), pages 1490-1518.
    11. Jacquet, Laurence & Lehmann, Etienne & Van der Linden, Bruno, 2013. "Optimal redistributive taxation with both extensive and intensive responses," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 148(5), pages 1770-1805.
    12. repec:hrv:faseco:34310083 is not listed on IDEAS
    13. Olivier Bargain & Mathias Dolls & Dirk Neumann & Andreas Peichl & Sebastian Siegloch, 2014. "Tax-Benefit Revealed Social Preferences in Europe and the US," Annals of Economics and Statistics, GENES, issue 113-114, pages 257-289.
    14. Blundell, Richard & Macurdy, Thomas, 1999. "Labor supply: A review of alternative approaches," Handbook of Labor Economics, in: O. Ashenfelter & D. Card (ed.), Handbook of Labor Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 27, pages 1559-1695, Elsevier.
    15. 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.
    16. Austan Goolsbee, 2000. "What Happens When You Tax the Rich? Evidence from Executive Compensation," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 108(2), pages 352-378, April.
    17. Emmanuel Saez, 2010. "Do Taxpayers Bunch at Kink Points?," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 2(3), pages 180-212, August.
    18. Thomas Piketty & Emmanuel Saez, 2003. "Income Inequality in the United States, 1913–1998," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 118(1), pages 1-41.
    19. N Gregory Mankiw, 2010. "Spreading the Wealth Around: Reflections Inspired by Joe the Plumber," Eastern Economic Journal, Palgrave Macmillan;Eastern Economic Association, vol. 36(3), pages 285-298.
    20. Emmanuel Farhi & Iván Werning, 2007. "Inequality and Social Discounting," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 115, pages 365-402.
    21. Nathaniel Hendren, 2014. "Measuring Economic Efficiency Using Inverse-Optimum Weights," NBER Working Papers 20351, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    22. Raj Chetty, 2012. "Bounds on Elasticities With Optimization Frictions: A Synthesis of Micro and Macro Evidence on Labor Supply," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 80(3), pages 969-1018, May.
    23. Mikhail Golosov & Narayana Kocherlakota & Aleh Tsyvinski, 2003. "Optimal Indirect and Capital Taxation," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 70(3), pages 569-587.
    24. Michael P. Keane, 2011. "Labor Supply and Taxes: A Survey," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 49(4), pages 961-1075, December.
    25. Kopczuk, Wojciech & Slemrod, Joel & Yitzhaki, Shlomo, 2005. "The limitations of decentralized world redistribution: An optimal taxation approach," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 49(4), pages 1051-1079, May.
    26. Congressional Budget Office, 2013. "The Distribution of Household Income and Federal Taxes, 2010," Reports 44604, Congressional Budget Office.
    27. François Bourguignon & Amedeo Spadaro, 2012. "Tax–benefit revealed social preferences," The Journal of Economic Inequality, Springer;Society for the Study of Economic Inequality, vol. 10(1), pages 75-108, March.
    28. Feldstein, Martin, 1995. "The Effect of Marginal Tax Rates on Taxable Income: A Panel Study of the 1986 Tax Reform Act," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 103(3), pages 551-572, June.
    29. Weinzierl, Matthew, 2014. "The promise of positive optimal taxation: normative diversity and a role for equal sacrifice," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 118(C), pages 128-142.
    30. Congressional Budget Office, 2013. "The Distribution of Household Income and Federal Taxes, 2010," Reports 44604, Congressional Budget Office.
    31. Ilyana Kuziemko & Michael I. Norton & Emmanuel Saez & Stefanie Stantcheva, 2015. "How Elastic Are Preferences for Redistribution? Evidence from Randomized Survey Experiments," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 105(4), pages 1478-1508, April.
    32. Hausman, Jerry A., 1985. "Taxes and labor supply," Handbook of Public Economics, in: A. J. Auerbach & M. Feldstein (ed.), Handbook of Public Economics, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 4, pages 213-263, Elsevier.
    33. Lindsey, Lawrence B., 1987. "Individual taxpayer response to tax cuts: 1982-1984 : With implications for the revenue maximizing tax rate," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 33(2), pages 173-206, July.
    34. Olivier Bargain & Mathias Dolls & Dirk Neumann & Sebastian Siegloch & Andreas Peichl, 2011. "Tax-Benefit Systems in Europe and the US: Between Equity and Efficiency," Working Papers 201101, Geary Institute, University College Dublin.
    35. Feldstein, Martin, 1995. "The Effect of Marginal Tax Rates on Taxable Income: A Panel Study of the 1986 Tax Reform Act," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 103(3), pages 551-572, June.
    36. Stiglitz, Joseph E., 1982. "Self-selection and Pareto efficient taxation," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 17(2), pages 213-240, March.
    37. Robert E. Lucas Jr., 2003. "Macroeconomic Priorities," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 93(1), pages 1-14, March.
    38. Diamond, Peter A, 1998. "Optimal Income Taxation: An Example with a U-Shaped Pattern of Optimal Marginal Tax Rates," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 88(1), pages 83-95, March.
    39. Amadéo Spadaro, 2008. "Optimal taxation, social contract and the four worlds of welfare capitalism," PSE Working Papers halshs-00586290, HAL.
    40. Casey Rothschild & Florian Scheuer, 2013. "Redistributive Taxation in the Roy Model," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 128(2), pages 623-668.
    41. Jukka Pirttilä & Roope Uusitalo, 2010. "A ‘Leaky Bucket’ in the Real World: Estimating Inequality Aversion using Survey Data," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 77(305), pages 60-76, January.
    42. Matthew Weinzierl, 2018. "Revisiting the Classical View of Benefit‐based Taxation," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 128(612), pages 37-64, July.
    43. Emmanuel Saez & Joel Slemrod & Seth H. Giertz, 2012. "The Elasticity of Taxable Income with Respect to Marginal Tax Rates: A Critical Review," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 50(1), pages 3-50, March.
    44. Li, Xin & Narajabad, Borghan & Temzelides, Ted, 2012. "Robust Optimal Taxation and Environmental Externalities," Working Papers 14-006, Rice University, Department of Economics.
    45. Christiansen, Vidar & Jansen, Eilev S., 1978. "Implicit social preferences in the Norwegian system of indirect taxation," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 10(2), pages 217-245, October.
    46. Congressional Budget Office, 2013. "The Distribution of Household Income and Federal Taxes, 2010," Reports 44604, Congressional Budget Office.
    47. Saez, Emmanuel, 2002. "The desirability of commodity taxation under non-linear income taxation and heterogeneous tastes," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 83(2), pages 217-230, February.
    48. J. A. Mirrlees, 1971. "An Exploration in the Theory of Optimum Income Taxation," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 38(2), pages 175-208.
    49. Olivier Bargain & Andreas Peichl, 2013. "Steady-State Labor Supply Elasticities: An International Comparison," Working Papers halshs-00805744, HAL.
    50. Smith, Adam, 1776. "An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations," History of Economic Thought Books, McMaster University Archive for the History of Economic Thought, number smith1776.
    51. repec:adr:anecst:y:2014:i:113-114 is not listed on IDEAS
    52. repec:adr:anecst:y:2014:i:113-114:p:12 is not listed on IDEAS
    53. Emmanuel Saez, 2001. "Using Elasticities to Derive Optimal Income Tax Rates," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 68(1), pages 205-229.
    54. Francine D. Blau & Lawrence M. Kahn, 2007. "Changes in the Labor Supply Behavior of Married Women: 1980–2000," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 25, pages 393-438.
    55. Koichi Mera, 1969. "Experimental Determination of Relative Marginal Utilities," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 83(3), pages 464-477.
    56. Yoram Amiel & John Creedy & Stan Hurn, 1999. "Measuring Attitudes Towards Inequality," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 101(1), pages 83-96, March.
    57. Bargain, Olivier & Dolls, Mathias & Immervoll, Herwig & Neumann, Dirk & Peichl, Andreas & Pestel, Nico & Siegloch, Sebastian, 2013. "Partisan Tax Policy and Income Inequality in the U.S., 1979-2007," IZA Discussion Papers 7190, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    Citations

    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.
    as


    Cited by:

    1. Colas, Mark & Findeisen, Sebastian & Sachs, Dominik, 2018. "Optimal Need-Based Financial Aid," CEPR Discussion Papers 13196, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    2. Spencer Bastani & Jacob Lundberg, 2017. "Political preferences for redistribution in Sweden," The Journal of Economic Inequality, Springer;Society for the Study of Economic Inequality, vol. 15(4), pages 345-367, December.
    3. Alexander D Klemm & Li Liu & Victor Mylonas & Philippe Wingender, 2018. "Are Elasticities of Taxable Income Rising?," IMF Working Papers 2018/132, International Monetary Fund.
    4. Alesina, Alberto F & Miano, Armando & Stantcheva, Stefanie, 2018. "Immigration and Redistribution," CEPR Discussion Papers 13035, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    5. Chen, Shu-Hua, 2020. "Inequality-growth nexus under progressive income taxation," Journal of Macroeconomics, Elsevier, vol. 65(C).
    6. Spencer Bastani & Daniel Waldenström, 2020. "How Should Capital Be Taxed?," Journal of Economic Surveys, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 34(4), pages 812-846, September.
    7. Bo Hyun Chang & Yongsung Chang & Sun-Bin Kim, 2018. "Pareto Weights in Practice: A Quantitative Analysis of 32 OECD Countries," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 28, pages 181-204, April.
    8. Pavel Brendler, 2020. "Why hasn't Social Security changed since 1977?," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 36, pages 134-157, April.
    9. Fabian Feger & Doina Radulescu & Doina Maria Radulescu, 2018. "Redistribution through Income Taxation and Public Utility Pricing in the Presence of Energy Efficiency Considerations," CESifo Working Paper Series 7195, CESifo.
    10. Johannes Hermle & Andreas Peichl, 2018. "Jointly Optimal Taxes for Different Types of Income," CESifo Working Paper Series 7248, CESifo.
    11. Thomas van der Pol & Frits Bos & Gerbert Romijn, 2017. "Distributionally Weighted Cost-Benefit Analysis: From Theory to Practice," CPB Discussion Paper 364, CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis.
    12. Bo Hyun Chang & Yongsung Chang & Sun-Bin Kim, 2016. "Pareto Weights in Practice: A Quantitative Analysis Across 32 OECD Countries," Working papers 2016rwp-92, Yonsei University, Yonsei Economics Research Institute.
    13. Jacobs, Bas & Jongen, Egbert L.W. & Zoutman, Floris T., 2017. "Revealed social preferences of Dutch political parties," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 156(C), pages 81-100.
    14. Thomas van der Pol & Frits Bos & Gerbert Romijn, 2017. "Distributionally Weighted Cost-Benefit Analysis: From Theory to Practice," CPB Discussion Paper 364.rdf, CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis.
    15. Jimmy Charité & Raymond Fisman & Ilyana Kuziemko, 2015. "Reference Points and Redistributive Preferences: Experimental Evidence," NBER Working Papers 21009, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

    Most related items

    These are the items that most often cite the same works as this one and are cited by the same works as this one.
    1. Carina Neisser, 2017. "The elasticity of taxable income: A meta-regression analysis," Working Papers 2017/10, Institut d'Economia de Barcelona (IEB).
    2. Jacobs, Bas & Jongen, Egbert L.W. & Zoutman, Floris T., 2017. "Revealed social preferences of Dutch political parties," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 156(C), pages 81-100.
    3. Emmanuel Saez & Joel Slemrod & Seth H. Giertz, 2012. "The Elasticity of Taxable Income with Respect to Marginal Tax Rates: A Critical Review," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 50(1), pages 3-50, March.
    4. Spencer Bastani & Jacob Lundberg, 2017. "Political preferences for redistribution in Sweden," The Journal of Economic Inequality, Springer;Society for the Study of Economic Inequality, vol. 15(4), pages 345-367, December.
    5. Felix Bierbrauer, 2016. "Effizienz oder Gerechtigkeit? Ungleiche Einkommen, ungleiche Vermögen und die Theorie der optimalen Besteuerung," Discussion Paper Series of the Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods 2016_03, Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods.
    6. Thomas Piketty & Emmanuel Saez, 2012. "Optimal Labor Income Taxation," NBER Working Papers 18521, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Weinzierl, Matthew, 2014. "The promise of positive optimal taxation: normative diversity and a role for equal sacrifice," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 118(C), pages 128-142.
    8. Bierbrauer Felix J., 2016. "Effizienz oder Gerechtigkeit?," Perspektiven der Wirtschaftspolitik, De Gruyter, vol. 17(1), pages 2-24, April.
    9. Lawson, Nicholas, 2019. "Taxing the job creators: Efficient taxation with bargaining in hierarchical firms," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 56(C), pages 1-25.
    10. Emmanuel Saez, 2004. "Reported Incomes and Marginal Tax Rates, 1960-2000: Evidence and Policy Implications," NBER Chapters, in: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 18, pages 117-174, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    11. Michaël Sicsic, 2020. "Does Labor Income React more to Income Tax or Means-Tested Benefit Reforms?," TEPP Working Paper 2020-03, TEPP.
    12. Kristoffer Berg & Thor O. Thoresen, 2020. "Problematic response margins in the estimation of the elasticity of taxable income," International Tax and Public Finance, Springer;International Institute of Public Finance, vol. 27(3), pages 721-752, June.
    13. Christina D. Romer & David H. Romer, 2014. "The Incentive Effects of Marginal Tax Rates: Evidence from the Interwar Era," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 6(3), pages 242-281, August.
    14. Lundberg, Jacob, 2017. "Analyzing tax reforms using the Swedish Labour Income Microsimulation Model," Working Paper Series 2017:12, Uppsala University, Department of Economics.
    15. Kumar, Anil & Liang, Che-Yuan, 2020. "Estimating taxable income responses with elasticity heterogeneity," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 188(C).
    16. Laurence Ales & Antonio Andres Bellofatto & Jessie Jiaxu Wang, 2017. "Taxing Atlas: Executive Compensation, Firm Size and Their Impact on Optimal Top Income Tax Rates," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 26, pages 62-90, October.
    17. Thomas Piketty & Emmanuel Saez & Stefanie Stantcheva, 2014. "Optimal Taxation of Top Labor Incomes: A Tale of Three Elasticities," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 6(1), pages 230-271, February.
    18. Mauro Mastrogiacomo & Nicole M. Bosch & Miriam D. A. C. Gielen & Egbert L. W. Jongen, 2017. "Heterogeneity in Labour Supply Responses: Evidence from a Major Tax Reform," Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics, Department of Economics, University of Oxford, vol. 79(5), pages 769-796, October.
    19. Rolf Aaberge & Ugo Colombino, 2014. "Labour Supply Models," Contributions to Economic Analysis, in: Cathal O’Donoghue (ed.), Handbook of Microsimulation Modelling, volume 127, pages 167-221, Emerald Publishing Ltd.
    20. Abdoulaye Ndiaye, 2017. "Flexible Retirement and Optimal Taxation," Working Paper Series WP-2018-18, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D63 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement
    • E32 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Prices, Business Fluctuations, and Cycles - - - Business Fluctuations; Cycles
    • H21 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Efficiency; Optimal Taxation

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:

    Statistics

    Access and download statistics

    Corrections

    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:hbs:wpaper:14-119. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (HBS). General contact details of provider: https://edirc.repec.org/data/harbsus.html .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.