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Inequality, Social Discounting and Estate Taxation

  • Emmanuel Farhi
  • Ivan Werning

To what degree should societies allow inequality to be inherited? What role should estate taxation play in shaping the intergenerational transmission of welfare? We explore these questions by modeling altruistically-linked individuals who experience privately observed taste or productivity shocks. Our positive economy is identical to models with infinite-lived individuals where efficiency requires immiseration: inequality grows without bound and everyone's consumption converges to zero. However, under an intergenerational interpretation, previous work only characterizes a particular set of Pareto-efficient allocations: those that value only the initial generation's welfare. We study other efficient allocations where the social welfare criterion values future generations directly, placing a positive weight on their welfare so that the effective social discount rate is lower than the private one. For any such difference in social and private discounting we find that consumption exhibits mean-reversion and that a steady-state, cross-sectional distribution for consumption and welfare exists, where no one is trapped at misery. The optimal allocation can then be implemented by a combination of income and estate taxation. We find that the optimal estate tax is progressive: fortunate parents face higher average marginal tax rates on their bequests.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 11408.

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Date of creation: Jun 2005
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Publication status: published as Farhi, Emmanuel and Ivan Werning. “Inequality and Social Discounting.” Journal of Political Economy 115, 3 (June 2007).
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:11408
Note: EFG PE
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  1. Thomas, Jonathan & Worrall, Tim, 1990. "Income fluctuation and asymmetric information: An example of a repeated principal-agent problem," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 51(2), pages 367-390, August.
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  4. Louis Kaplow, 1994. "A Note on Subsidizing Gifts," NBER Working Papers 4868, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  6. Atkeson, Andrew & Lucas, Robert E, Jr, 1992. "On Efficient Distribution with Private Information," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 59(3), pages 427-53, July.
  7. Spear, Stephen E & Srivastava, Sanjay, 1987. "On Repeated Moral Hazard with Discounting," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 54(4), pages 599-617, October.
  8. Albanesi, Stefania & Sleet, Christopher, 2003. "Dynamic Optimal Taxation with Private Information," CEPR Discussion Papers 4006, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  9. Christopher Sleet, 2004. "Credible social insurance," 2004 Meeting Papers 75, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  10. Phelan, Christopher, 1998. "On the Long Run Implications of Repeated Moral Hazard," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 79(2), pages 174-191, April.
  11. Mirrlees, James A, 1971. "An Exploration in the Theory of Optimum Income Taxation," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 38(114), pages 175-208, April.
  12. Christopher Phelan, 2005. "Opportunity and social mobility," Staff Report 323, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
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