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On the (Ir)Relevence of Distribution and Labor Supply Distortion of Government Policy

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  • Louis Kaplow

Abstract

Should the assessment of government policies, such as the provision of public goods and the control of externalities, deviate from first-best principles to account for distributive effects and for the distortionary cost of labor income taxation? For example, is the optimal extent of public goods provision smaller than indicated by the Samuelson rule because finance is distortionary? Or should environmental regulations fail to internalize externalities fully if the incidence of the regulations is regressive? It is suggested that these questions are best addressed by considering distribution-neutral implementation, in which budget balance is achieved by choosing an adjustment to the income tax that offsets the distributive impact of the policy in question. In basic cases, both distribution and labor supply distortion are moot because the target policy and the tax adjustment produce offsetting effects on each. Thus, traditional first-best principles provide good benchmarks for policy analysis after all. Moreover, even when actual implementation will not be distribution neutral in aggregate, distribution-neutral policy analysis has many conceptual and practical virtues that render it quite useful to investigators.

Suggested Citation

  • 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.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:10490
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    Cited by:

    1. 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.
    2. repec:aea:aejpol:v:9:y:2017:i:4:p:395-421 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Louis Kaplow, 2016. "A Distribution-Neutral Perspective on Tax Expenditure Limitations," NBER Chapters,in: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 31, pages 161-188 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. repec:kap:pubcho:v:172:y:2017:i:1:d:10.1007_s11127-017-0413-4 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Dietrich, Stephan & Malerba, Daniele & Barrientos, Armando & Gassmann, Franziska, 2017. "Rates of return to antipoverty transfers in Uganda," MERIT Working Papers 040, United Nations University - Maastricht Economic and Social Research Institute on Innovation and Technology (MERIT).

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    JEL classification:

    • D61 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Allocative Efficiency; Cost-Benefit Analysis
    • D62 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Externalities

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