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On the Undesirability of Commodity Taxation Even When Income Taxation is Not Optimal

  • Louis Kaplow

An important result due to Atkinson and Stiglitz (1976) is that differential commodity taxation is not optimal in the presence of an optimal nonlinear income tax (given weak separability of utility between labor and all consumption goods). This article demonstrates that their conclusion holds regardless of whether the income tax is optimal. In particular, given any commodity tax and income tax system, differential commodity taxation can be eliminated in a manner that results in a Pareto improvement. Also, differential commodity taxation can be proportionally reduced so as to generate a Pareto improvement. In addition, for commodity tax reforms that do not eliminate or proportionally reduce differential taxation, a simple efficiency condition is offered for determining whether a Pareto improvement is possible.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 10407.

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Date of creation: Apr 2004
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as Kaplow, Louis. "On The Undesirability Of Commodity Taxation Even When Income Taxation Is Not Optimal," Journal of Public Economics, 2006, v90(6-7,Aug), 1235-1250.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:10407
Note: PE
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  1. Maurice Marchand & Pierre Pestieau & María Racionero, 2003. "Optimal redistribution when different workers are indistinguishable," Canadian Journal of Economics, Canadian Economics Association, vol. 36(4), pages 911-922, November.
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  8. 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.
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  10. Hylland, Aanund & Zeckhauser, Richard, 1979. " Distributional Objectives Should Affect Taxes but not Program Choice or Design," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 81(2), pages 264-84.
  11. Louis Kaplow, 2004. "On the (Ir)Relevance of Distribution and Labor Supply Distortion to Government Policy," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 18(4), pages 159-175, Fall.
  12. 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.
  13. Deaton, Angus, 1979. "Optimally uniform commodity taxes," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 2(4), pages 357-361.
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  16. Ordover, J. A. & Phelps, E. S., 1979. "The concept of optimal taxation in the overlapping-generations model of capital and wealth," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 12(1), pages 1-26, August.
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