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Tax Bases, Tax Rates and the Elasticity of Reported Income

  • Wojciech Kopczuk

Tax reforms usually change both tax rates and tax bases. Using a panel of income tax returns spanning the two major U.S. tax reforms of the 1980s and a number of smaller tax law changes, I find that the elasticity of income reported on personal income tax returns depends on the available deductions. This highlights that this key behavioral elasticity is not a structural parameter but rather that it can be to some extent controlled by policy makers. The results suggest that base broadening reduces the marginal efficiency cost of taxation. The point estimates indicate that the Tax Reform Act of 1986 reduced the marginal cost of collecting a dollar of tax revenue by 2 cents, with roughly half of this reduction due to the base broadening and the other half due to the tax rate reduction. As a by-product, the analysis in this paper offers a reconciliation of disparate estimates obtained by previous studies of the tax responsiveness of income.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 10044.

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Date of creation: Oct 2003
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Publication status: published as Journal of Public Economics, 2005, 89(11-12), 2093-2119
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:10044
Note: PE
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  1. Aarbu, Karl O. & Thoresen, Thor O., 2001. "Income Responses to Tax Changes--Evidence from the Norwegian Tax Reform," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 54(n. 2), pages 319-38, June.
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  7. Joel Slemrod & Wojciech Kopczuk, 2000. "The Optimal Elasticity of Taxable Income," NBER Working Papers 7922, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. 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 551-72, June.
  9. 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.
  10. Wojciech Kopczuk, 2003. "Tax Bases, Tax Rates and the Elasticity of Reported Income," NBER Working Papers 10044, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. Wilson, John Douglas, 1989. "On the Optimal Tax Base for Commodity Taxation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 79(5), pages 1196-1206, December.
  12. James E. Long, 1999. "The Impact of Marginal Tax Rates on Taxable Income: Evidence from State Income Tax Differentials," Southern Economic Journal, Southern Economic Association, vol. 65(4), pages 855-869, April.
  13. Slemrod, Joel, 1998. "Methodological Issues in Measuring and Interpreting Taxable Income Elasticities," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 51(n. 4), pages 773-88, December.
  14. Gerald E. Auten & Holger Sieg & Charles T. Clotfelter, 2002. "Charitable Giving, Income, and Taxes: An Analysis of Panel Data," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(1), pages 371-382, March.
  15. Slemrod, Joel, 1994. "Fixing the leak in Okun's bucket optimal tax progressivity when avoidance can be controlled," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 55(1), pages 41-51, September.
  16. Kopczuk, Wojciech, 2001. "Redistribution when avoidance behavior is heterogeneous," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 81(1), pages 51-71, July.
  17. 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.
  18. Feldstein, Martin, 1995. "Effect of Marginal Tax Rates on Taxable Income: A Panel Study of the 1986 Tax Reform Act," Scholarly Articles 2766676, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  19. Daniel Feenberg & Elisabeth Coutts, 1993. "An introduction to the TAXSIM model," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 12(1), pages 189-194.
  20. Mayshar, Joram, 1991. " Taxation with Costly Administration," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 93(1), pages 75-88.
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