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Tax Reform and Automatic Stabilization

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Abstract

A fundamental property of a progressive income tax is that it provides implicit insurance against shocks to income by dampening the variability of disposable income and consumption. The Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981 (ERTA) in combination with the Tax Reform Act of 1986 (TRA86) greatly reduced the number of marginal tax brackets and the maximum marginal rate, which limits the stabilizing effect of the tax system on household consumption when pre-tax income fluctuates. We examine the effect of the federal income tax reforms of the 1980s on the associated degree of automatic stabilization of consumption. The empirical framework derives from the consumption insurance literature, where the ideal outcome is spatially equal changes in households' marginal utilities of consumption, and permits partial insurance, which we use to identify how the degree of consumption insurance has changed since ERTA and TRA86. Our data come from interview years 1980-1991 in the Panel Study of Income Dynamics. We find that in certain the tax reforms of the 1980s actually increased the automatic stabilization inherent in the United States income tax. Overall, ERTA and TRA86 reduced consumption stability by about 50 percent. More recent tax reforms, most notably increased EITC generosity, have restored or enhanced consumption insurance. A welfare analysis indicates that the cost of moving to the post-TRA86 system is sizable for relatively risk averse households facing large income risk, but is much more modest for the typical household. This paper was revised January 2001.

Suggested Citation

  • Thomas J. Kniesner & James P. Ziliak, 2000. "Tax Reform and Automatic Stabilization," Center for Policy Research Working Papers 21, Center for Policy Research, Maxwell School, Syracuse University.
  • Handle: RePEc:max:cprwps:21
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    Cited by:

    1. Ziliak, James P. & Hardy, Bradley & Bollinger, Christopher, 2011. "Earnings volatility in America: Evidence from matched CPS," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 18(6), pages 742-754.
    2. Thomas Kniesner & W. Viscusi & James Ziliak, 2010. "Policy relevant heterogeneity in the value of statistical life: New evidence from panel data quantile regressions," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 40(1), pages 15-31, February.
    3. Scott Drewianka, 2010. "Cross-Sectional Variation In Individuals' Earnings Instability," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 56(2), pages 291-326, June.
    4. Torben Andersen, 2005. "Is there a Role for an Active Fiscal Stabilization Policy?," CESifo Working Paper Series 1447, CESifo Group Munich.
    5. Mathias Dolls & Clemens Fuest & Dirk Neumann & Andreas Peichl, 2018. "An unemployment insurance scheme for the euro area? A comparison of different alternatives using microdata," International Tax and Public Finance, Springer;International Institute of Public Finance, vol. 25(1), pages 273-309, February.
    6. Morissette, Rene & Ostrovsky, Yuri, 2008. "How Do Families and Unattached Individuals Respond to Layoffs? Evidence from Canada," Analytical Studies Branch Research Paper Series 2008304e, Statistics Canada, Analytical Studies Branch.
    7. Dolls, Mathias & Fuest, Clemens & Peichl, Andreas, 2012. "Automatic stabilizers and economic crisis: US vs. Europe," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 96(3), pages 279-294.
    8. Julie L. Hotchkiss & Robert E. Moore & Fernando Rios-Avila, 2014. "Assessing the Welfare Impact of Tax Reform: A Case Study of the 2001 U.S. Tax Cut," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 60(2), pages 404-404, June.
    9. Stevan Luković, 2014. "The Role Of The Automatic Stabilizers In Modern Economy," Ekonomika, Journal for Economic Theory and Practice and Social Issues 2014-01, „Ekonomika“ Society of Economists, Niš (Serbia).
    10. Funashima, Yoshito, 2015. "Automatic stabilizers in the Japanese tax system," Journal of Asian Economics, Elsevier, vol. 39(C), pages 86-93.
    11. Morissette, Rene & Ostrovsky, Yuri, 2005. "The Instability of Family Earnings and Family Income in Canada, 1986 to 1991 and 1996 to 2001," Analytical Studies Branch Research Paper Series 2005265e, Statistics Canada, Analytical Studies Branch.
    12. Julie L. Hotchkiss & Robert E. Moore, 2007. "Assessing the welfare impact of the 2001 tax reform on dual-earner families," FRB Atlanta Working Paper 2007-27, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.
    13. Ivan Vidangos, 2009. "Household welfare, precautionary saving, and social insurance under multiple sources of risk," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2009-14, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
    14. Morissette, Rene & Ostrovsky, Yuri, 2008. "Comment les familles et les personnes seules reagissent-elles aux licenciements? Un eclairage canadien," Direction des etudes analytiques : documents de recherche 2008304f, Statistics Canada, Direction des etudes analytiques.
    15. James P. Ziliak & Thomas J. Kniesner, 2005. "The Effect of Income Taxation on Consumption and Labor Supply," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 23(4), pages 769-796, October.
    16. repec:bla:coecpo:v:35:y:2017:i:2:p:312-330 is not listed on IDEAS
    17. Andreas Fagereng & Elin Halvorsen, 2015. "Imputing consumption from Norwegian income and wealth registry data," Discussion Papers 831, Statistics Norway, Research Department.
    18. Alan J. Auerbach, 2002. "Is there a role for discretionary fiscal policy?," Proceedings - Economic Policy Symposium - Jackson Hole, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, pages 109-150.
    19. Reagan Baughman & Stacy Dickert-Conlin, 2009. "The earned income tax credit and fertility," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 22(3), pages 537-563, July.
    20. Luis Huesca Reynoso & Abdelkrim Araar, 2016. "Comparison of fiscal system progressivity over time: theory and application in Mexico," Estudios Económicos, El Colegio de México, Centro de Estudios Económicos, vol. 31(1), pages 3-45.
    21. Dolls, Mathias & Fuest, Clemens & Kock, Jan & Peichl, Andreas & Wehrhöfer, Nils & Wittneben, Christian, 2014. "Abschlussbericht zu Forschungsvorhaben fe 5/14: "Automatic stabilizers in the Eurozone: Analysis of their effectiveness at the member state and euro area level and in international comparison&quo," ZEW Expertises, ZEW - Zentrum für Europäische Wirtschaftsforschung / Center for European Economic Research, number 111444.
    22. Yang, Juan & Mitchell, Paul D. & Gray, Michael & Steffey, Kevin, 2007. "Unbalanced Nested Component Error Model and the Value of Soil Insecticide and Bt Corn for Controlling Western Corn Rootworm," Staff Paper Series 510, University of Wisconsin, Agricultural and Applied Economics.

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    JEL classification:

    • H21 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Efficiency; Optimal Taxation

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