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Is Commodity Taxation Unfair?

In a model where agents have unequal skills and heterogeneous preferences about consumption goods and leisure, this paper studies how to combine linear commodity taxes and non-linear income tax. It proposes a particular social welfare function on the basis of fairness principles. It then derives a simple criterion for evaluating the social welfare consequences of various tax schedules. Under the proposed approach, the optimal tax should have no commodity tax for some range of consumptions, and income redistribution would feature high subsidies to the working poor. It is also shown that, even when the income tax fails to be optimal, commodity taxes may not improve social welfare.

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Paper provided by Institut d'economie publique (IDEP), Marseille, France in its series IDEP Working Papers with number 0502.

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Length: 30 pages
Date of creation: Jan 2005
Date of revision: Jan 2005
Handle: RePEc:iep:wpidep:0502
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  1. Fleurbaey, Marc & Suzumura, Kotaro & Tadenuma, Koichi, 2005. "Arrovian aggregation in economic environments: how much should we know about indifference surfaces?," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 124(1), pages 22-44, September.
  2. Laroque, Guy R., 2005. "Indirect taxation is superfluous under separability and taste homogeneity: a simple proof," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 87(1), pages 141-144, April.
  3. Emmanuel Saez, 2000. "The Desirability of Commodity Taxation under Non-Linear Income Taxation and Heterogeneous Tastes," NBER Working Papers 8029, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. CREMER, Helmuth & PESTIEAU, Pierre & ROCHET, Jean-Charles, 1999. "Direct versus indirect taxation: the design of the tax structure revisited," CORE Discussion Papers 1999010, Université catholique de Louvain, Center for Operations Research and Econometrics (CORE).
  5. Francois Maniquet & Yves Sprumont, 2002. "Fair Production and Allocation of an Excludable Nonrival Good," Economics Working Papers 0014, Institute for Advanced Study, School of Social Science.
  6. BOADWAY, Robin & MARCHAND, Maurice & PESTIEAU, Pierre, 1992. "Towards a theory of the direct-indirect tax mix," CORE Discussion Papers 1992026, Université catholique de Louvain, Center for Operations Research and Econometrics (CORE).
  7. Nishimura, Yukihiro, 2003. "Optimal non-linear income taxation for reduction of envy," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 87(2), pages 363-386, February.
  8. Alkan, Ahmet & Demange, Gabrielle & Gale, David, 1991. "Fair Allocation of Indivisible Goods and Criteria of Justice," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 59(4), pages 1023-39, July.
  9. Jean-Charles Rochet & Philippe Chone, 1998. "Ironing, Sweeping, and Multidimensional Screening," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 66(4), pages 783-826, July.
  10. Maniquet, Francois & Sprumont, Yves, 2005. "Welfare egalitarianism in non-rival environments," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 120(2), pages 155-174, February.
  11. Boadway, Robin & Keen, Michael, 1993. "Public Goods, Self-Selection and Optimal Income Taxation," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 34(3), pages 463-78, August.
  12. Mirrlees, James A, 1971. "An Exploration in the Theory of Optimum Income Taxation," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 38(114), pages 175-208, April.
  13. Marc Fleurbaey, 2003. "Social Welfare, Priority to the Worst-Off And the Dimensions of Individual Well-Being," IDEP Working Papers 0312, Institut d'economie publique (IDEP), Marseille, France.
  14. Guesnerie, Roger, 1977. "On the direction of tax reform," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 7(2), pages 179-202, April.
  15. Sören Blomquist & Vidar Christiansen, 2004. "Taxation and Heterogeneous Preferences," CESifo Working Paper Series 1244, CESifo Group Munich.
  16. Hatta, Tatsuo, 1977. "A Theory of Piecemeal Policy Recommendations," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 44(1), pages 1-21, February.
  17. BOADWAY, R. & MARCHAND, M. & PESTIEAU, P. & del MAR RACIONERO, M., 2001. "Optimal redistribution with heterogeneous preferences for leisure," CORE Discussion Papers 2001025, Université catholique de Louvain, Center for Operations Research and Econometrics (CORE).
  18. Konishi, Hideo, 1995. "A Pareto-improving commodity tax reform under a smooth nonlinear income tax," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 56(3), pages 413-446, March.
  19. Marc Fleurbaey & Fran�Ois Maniquet, 2007. "Help the Low Skilled or Let the Hardworking Thrive? A Study of Fairness in Optimal Income Taxation," Journal of Public Economic Theory, Association for Public Economic Theory, vol. 9(3), pages 467-500, 06.
  20. Marc Fleurbaey & Francois Maniquet, 2002. "Fair Income Tax," Economics Working Papers 0021, Institute for Advanced Study, School of Social Science.
  21. Cécile Boyer & Christian Gourieroux & Gaëlle Le Fol, 2001. "Ajustement des prix bid et ask en présence d'information privée," Working Papers 2001-25, Centre de Recherche en Economie et Statistique.
  22. Christiansen, Vidar, 1984. "Which commodity taxes should supplement the income tax?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 24(2), pages 195-220, July.
  23. Atkinson, A. B. & Stiglitz, J. E., 1976. "The design of tax structure: Direct versus indirect taxation," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 6(1-2), pages 55-75.
  24. Cécile Boyer & Christian Gourieroux & Gaëlle Le Fol, 2001. "Ajustement des prix bid et ask en présence d'information privée," Working Papers 2001-25, Centre de Recherche en Economie et Statistique.
  25. Decoster, Andre & Schokkaert, Erik & Van Camp, Guy, 1997. "Is redistribution through indirect taxes equitable?," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 41(3-5), pages 599-608, April.
  26. Cremer, Helmuth & Gahvari, Firouz, 1995. "Uncertainty and optimal taxation: In defense of commodity taxes," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 56(2), pages 291-310, February.
  27. M. Fleurbaey & F. Maniquet, 2008. "Fair social orderings," Economic Theory, Springer, vol. 34(1), pages 25-45, January.
  28. Naito, Hisahiro, 1999. "Re-examination of uniform commodity taxes under a non-linear income tax system and its implication for production efficiency," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 71(2), pages 165-188, February.
  29. Yukihiro Nishimura, 2003. "Optimal commodity taxation for reduction of envy," Social Choice and Welfare, Springer, vol. 21(3), pages 501-527, December.
  30. Feldstein, Martin, 1976. "On the theory of tax reform," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 6(1-2), pages 77-104.
  31. Samuelson, P. A., 1986. "Theory of optimal taxation," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 30(2), pages 137-143, July.
  32. Christiansen, Vidar, 1981. "Evaluation of Public Projects under Optimal Taxation," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 48(3), pages 447-57, July.
  33. Armstrong, Mark, 1996. "Multiproduct Nonlinear Pricing," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 64(1), pages 51-75, January.
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