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Taxing Consumption and Other Sins

  • James R. Hines Jr.

Throughout American history, the U.S. federal and state governments have imposed excise taxes on commodities such as alcohol and tobacco (and more recently, gasoline and firearms). Rates of such "sin" taxation, and consumption taxation broadly (including sales taxes and value-added taxes), are currently much lower in the United States than they are in Europe, Japan, and other affluent parts of the world. In part, this reflects relative government sizes, but that is not the whole story, since even controlling for total tax collections, levels of national income, government decentralization, and openness to international trade, the United States imposes unusually low excise and consumption taxes. As a result, the United States relies to a much greater degree than other countries on personal and corporate income taxes, thereby affording fewer opportunities to use the tax system to protect individuals and the environment by discouraging the consumption of "sinful" commodities, and instead simply discouraging saving and investment.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 12730.

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Date of creation: Dec 2006
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Publication status: published as James R. Hines, 2007. "Taxing Consumption and Other Sins," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 21(1), pages 49-68, Winter.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:12730
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  1. Thomas A. Barthold, 1994. "Issues in the Design of Environmental Excise Taxes," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 8(1), pages 133-151, Winter.
  2. Walls, Margaret & Hanson, Jean, 1996. "Distributional Impacts of an Environmental Tax Shift: The Case of Motor Vehicle Emissions Taxes," Discussion Papers dp-96-11, Resources For the Future.
  3. Gruber, Jonathan & Hungerman, Daniel M., 2007. "Faith-based charity and crowd-out during the great depression," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 91(5-6), pages 1043-1069, June.
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  5. Ted O'Donoghue & Matthew Rabin, 2003. "Studying Optimal Paternalism, Illustrated by a Model of Sin Taxes," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 93(2), pages 186-191, May.
  6. Walls, Margaret & Hanson, Jean, 1999. "Distributional Aspects of an Environmental Tax Shift: The Case of Motor Vehicle Emissions Taxes," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 52(n. 1), pages 53-65, March.
  7. James M. Poterba, 1991. "Is the Gasoline Tax Regressive?," NBER Working Papers 3578, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Gilbert E. Metcalf, 2006. "Value-Added Tax," Discussion Papers Series, Department of Economics, Tufts University 0608, Department of Economics, Tufts University.
  9. Gilbert E. Metcalf, 1995. "Value-Added Taxation: A Tax Whose Time Has Come?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 9(1), pages 121-140, Winter.
  10. Pogue, Thomas F & Sgontz, Larry G, 1989. "Taxing to Control Social Costs: The Case of Alcohol," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 79(1), pages 235-43, March.
  11. Louis Kaplow, 2006. "Optimal Control of Externalities in the Presence of Income Taxation," NBER Working Papers 12339, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. Gruber Jonathan H & Mullainathan Sendhil, 2005. "Do Cigarette Taxes Make Smokers Happier," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 5(1), pages 1-45, July.
  13. Gordon, Roger H. & Hines, James Jr, 2002. "International taxation," Handbook of Public Economics, in: A. J. Auerbach & M. Feldstein (ed.), Handbook of Public Economics, edition 1, volume 4, chapter 28, pages 1935-1995 Elsevier.
  14. Kenkel, Donald S, 1996. "New Estimates of the Optimal Tax on Alcohol," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 34(2), pages 296-319, April.
  15. 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.
  16. Don Fullerton, 1995. "Why Have Separate Environmental Taxes?," NBER Working Papers 5380, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  17. Ian W. H. Parry & Kenneth A. Small, 2005. "Does Britain or the United States Have the Right Gasoline Tax?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(4), pages 1276-1289, September.
  18. O'Donoghue, Ted & Rabin, Matthew, 2006. "Optimal sin taxes," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 90(10-11), pages 1825-1849, November.
  19. Hines, James R. Jr., 1999. "Lessons from Behavioral Responses to International Taxation," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 52(n. 2), pages 305-22, June.
  20. Auerbach, Alan J. & Hines, James Jr., 2002. "Taxation and economic efficiency," Handbook of Public Economics, in: A. J. Auerbach & M. Feldstein (ed.), Handbook of Public Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 21, pages 1347-1421 Elsevier.
  21. Martin Feldstein, 2006. "The Effect of Taxes on Efficiency and Growth," NBER Working Papers 12201, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  22. Haig, Robert Murray & Shoup, Carl, 1934. "“The Sales Tax in the American States”," Business History Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 8(04), pages 74-75, June.
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