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The Optimal Size of Public Spending and the Distortionary Cost of Taxation

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  • Yew-Kwang Ng

Abstract

Feldstein (1997) reviews his and others' contributions in the distortionary costs of taxation, arriving at a remarkable estimate that the cost per incremental dollar of government spending is a very high $2.65. Kaplow (1996) argues that it is optimal to supply a public good whenever the benefit/cost ratio exceeds one, contrary to the orthodox position since Pigou (1928) that the benefits of public goods must exceed their direct costs by an amount sufficient to outweigh the distortionary costs of taxation. This paper largely reconciles these two apparently opposing positions. The large distortionary costs exist on the revenue side but is largely offset by the negative distortionary costs or distributional gain on the spending side. However, both Kaplow's and Feldstein's arguments have to be subject to important qualifications. Additional arguments relevant to the central public finance question "How big should the public spending be?" are also reviewed. The prevalence of environmental disruption effects, the existence of burden-free taxes on diamond goods, and the importance of relative-income effects all favor the lowering of the required benefit/cost ratio for public goods and, as a rule, more public spending. The reason for the difference between the existence of distortion (in comparison to a lumpsum tax) as emphasized by Browning and Liu (1998) and the unitary marginal cost of public fund is also explained graphically.

Suggested Citation

  • Yew-Kwang Ng, 2000. "The Optimal Size of Public Spending and the Distortionary Cost of Taxation," Monash Economics Working Papers archive-19, Monash University, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:mos:moswps:archive-19
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    1. Yew-Kwang Ng, 2017. "Towards a Theory of Third-Best," Pacific Economic Review, Wiley Blackwell, pages 155-166.
    2. Martin Feldstein, 1999. "Tax Avoidance And The Deadweight Loss Of The Income Tax," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 81(4), pages 674-680, November.
    3. Ng, Yew-Kwang, 1975. "Non-Economic Activities, Indirect Externalities, and Third-Best Politics," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 28(3), pages 507-525.
    4. Ng, Yew-Kwang, 1987. "Diamonds Are a Government's Best Friend: Burden-Free Taxes on Goods Valued for Their Values," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 77(1), pages 186-191, March.
    5. Ballard, Charles L & Shoven, John B & Whalley, John, 1985. "General Equilibrium Computations of the Marginal Welfare Costs of Taxes in the United States," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 75(1), pages 128-138, March.
    6. Ng, Yew-Kwang, 1987. "Relative-Income Effects and the Appropriate Level of Public Expenditure," Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford University Press, vol. 39(2), pages 293-300, June.
    7. Ng, Yew-Kwang & Wang, Jianguo, 1993. "Relative income, aspiration, environmental quality, individual and political myopia : Why may the rat-race for material growth be welfare-reducing?," Mathematical Social Sciences, Elsevier, vol. 26(1), pages 3-23, July.
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    Cited by:

    1. Slemrod, Joel & Yitzhaki, Shlomo, 2001. "Integrating Expenditure and Tax Decisions: The Marginal Cost of Funds and the Marginal Benefit of Projects," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 54(2), pages 189-202, June.
    2. Kaplow, Louis, 2006. "Public goods and the distribution of income," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 50(7), pages 1627-1660, October.
    3. Wendner, Ronald & Goulder, Lawrence H., 2008. "Status Effects, Public Goods Provision, and the Excess Burden," MPRA Paper 8260, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    4. Richard G. Lipsey, 2012. "A critique of Ng's third-best theory," Discussion Papers dp12-02, Department of Economics, Simon Fraser University.
    5. Richard M. bird, 2003. "Taxation in Latin America: Reflections on Sustainability and the Balance between Equity and Efficiency," International Tax Program Papers 0306, International Tax Program, Institute for International Business, Joseph L. Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto.
    6. Louis Kaplow, 2010. "Optimal Control of Externalities in the Presence of Income Taxation," STICERD - Public Economics Programme Discussion Papers 02, Suntory and Toyota International Centres for Economics and Related Disciplines, LSE.
    7. Louis Kaplow, 2006. "Optimal Control of Externalities in the Presence of Income Taxation," NBER Working Papers 12339, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Will Martin & James E. Anderson, 2005. "Costs of Taxation and the Benefits of Public Goods: The Role of Income Effects," Boston College Working Papers in Economics 617, Boston College Department of Economics.
    9. Louis Kaplow, 2004. "On the (Ir)Relevence of Distribution and Labor Supply Distortion of Government Policy," NBER Working Papers 10490, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    10. Wendner, Ronald & Goulder, Lawrence H., 2008. "Status effects, public goods provision, and excess burden," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 92(10-11), pages 1968-1985, October.
    11. Kaplow, Louis, 2010. "Optimal control of externalities in the presence of income taxation," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 58172, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    12. Olof Johansson-Stenman, 2005. "Distributional Weights in Cost-Benefit Analysis—Should We Forget about Them?," Land Economics, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 81(3).
    13. Parry, Ian, 2000. "Comparing the Marginal Excess Burden of Labor, Gasoline, Cigarette and Alcohol Taxes: An Application to the United Kingdom," Discussion Papers dp-00-33-rev, Resources For the Future.
    14. Johansson-Stenman, Olof, 2001. "Should We Use Distributional Weights in CBA When Income Taxes Can Deal with Equity?," Working Papers in Economics 35, University of Gothenburg, Department of Economics.
    15. Ming Chung Chang & Hsiao-Ping Peng & Yan-Ching Ho, 2016. "The Social Marginal Cost Curve and a Corner Solution of the Second-best Level of Public Good Provision: A Review and an Extension," Swiss Journal of Economics and Statistics (SJES), Swiss Society of Economics and Statistics (SSES), vol. 152(III), pages 209-241, September.
    16. Louis Kaplow, 2003. "Transition Policy: A Conceptual Framework," NBER Working Papers 9596, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    17. Ming Chung Chang & Shufen Wu, 2011. "Should Marginal Cost of Public Funds include the Revenue Effect?," Swiss Journal of Economics and Statistics (SJES), Swiss Society of Economics and Statistics (SSES), vol. 147(I), pages 1-16, March.
    18. Massimo Florio & Sara Colautti, 2005. "A logistic growth theory of public expenditures: A study of five countries over 100 years," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 122(3), pages 355-393, March.
    19. Barnett, W.S. & Masse, Leonard N., 2007. "Comparative benefit-cost analysis of the Abecedarian program and its policy implications," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 26(1), pages 113-125, February.
    20. José Manuel González-Páramo, "undated". "Midiendo El Coste Marginal En Bienestar De Una Reforma Impositiva," Working Papers 32-02 Classification-JEL , Instituto de Estudios Fiscales.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • H00 - Public Economics - - General - - - General
    • D61 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Allocative Efficiency; Cost-Benefit Analysis

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