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On the Predictability of Tax-Rate Changes

  • Robert J. Barro

Some previous analyses have suggested that the smoothing of tax rates over time would be a desirable guide for public debt management. One implication of this viewpoint is that future changes in tax rates would be unpredictable based on current information. This proposition is tested by examining the behavior of U.S. federal and total government tax (and "non-tax")receipts relative to GNP. The sample for the federal government goes back to1879, while that for total government starts in 1929. Some econometric problems with using time-averaged data are discussed. The main empirical results accord with the theoretical analysis -- in particular, there is first, little indication of drift in the tax rates; second, insignificant relations of tax-rate changes to the own history of changes; and third, little explanatory value for tax-rate changes from a vector of lagged variables, which include the behavior of government spending and real output. If the findings are sustained, they imply that the existing IJ.S. time series data do not isolate periods in which current overall tax rates would be perceived as high or low relative to expected future rates. Accordingly, it may be impossible to use these data to evaluate policies that entail intertemporal manipulation of aggregate tax rates.

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File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w0636.pdf
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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 0636.

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Date of creation: Feb 1981
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Publication status: published as Barro, Robert J. (ed.) Macroeconomic policy. Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 1990.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:0636
Note: EFG
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  1. Hall, Robert E, 1978. "Stochastic Implications of the Life Cycle-Permanent Income Hypothesis: Theory and Evidence," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 86(6), pages 971-87, December.
  2. Sandmo, Agnar, 1974. "A Note on the Structure of Optimal Taxation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 64(4), pages 701-06, September.
  3. Barro, Robert J, 1979. "On the Determination of the Public Debt," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 87(5), pages 940-71, October.
  4. Kydland, Finn E & Prescott, Edward C, 1977. "Rules Rather Than Discretion: The Inconsistency of Optimal Plans," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 85(3), pages 473-91, June.
  5. Sadka, Efraim, 1977. "A theorem on uniform taxation," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 7(3), pages 387-391, June.
  6. Auernheimer, Leonardo, 1974. "The Honest Government's Guide to the Revenue from the Creation of Money," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 82(3), pages 598-606, May/June.
  7. Fama, Eugene F, 1970. "Efficient Capital Markets: A Review of Theory and Empirical Work," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 25(2), pages 383-417, May.
  8. Shiller, Robert J, 1979. "The Volatility of Long-Term Interest Rates and Expectations Models of the Term Structure," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 87(6), pages 1190-1219, December.
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