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Economics of estate taxation: a brief review of theory and evidence

  • Wojciech Kopczuk

This paper provides a non-technical overview of the economic arguments related to the desirability of transfer taxation and a summary of empirical evidence surrounding these issues. Understanding optimal transfer taxation throughout the distribution requires understanding the nature of a bequest motive, a topic on which there is little consensus. However, I argue that progress still can be made on the question of desirability and optimal level of estate taxation at the top of the distribution, because interpersonal externalities implied by the presence of bequest motive are irrelevant from the welfare point of view when the focus is on the wealthy. I also examine the role of negative externalities from wealth concentration in providing justification for considering this type of taxation.

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File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w15741.pdf
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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 15741.

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Date of creation: Feb 2010
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Publication status: published as "Economics of estate taxation: A brief review of theory and evidence," Tax Law Review, 2009, 63(1), 139-157.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:15741
Note: AG ME PE
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  1. Audrey Light & Kathleen McGarry, 2003. "Why Parents Play Favorites: Explanations for Unequal Bequests," Working Papers 03-01, Ohio State University, Department of Economics.
  2. Werning, Ivan & Farhi, Emmanuel, 2007. "Inequality and Social Discounting," Scholarly Articles 3451391, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  3. Guy Laroque, 2004. "Indirect Taxation is Superfluous under Separability and Taste Homogeneity : A Simple Proof," Working Papers 2004-23, Centre de Recherche en Economie et Statistique.
  4. Joseph G. Altonji & Fumio Hayashi & Laurence Kotlikoff, . "Parental Altruism and Inter Vivos Transfers: Theory and Evidence," IPR working papers 95-22, Institute for Policy Resarch at Northwestern University.
  5. B. Douglas Bernheim & Antonio Rangel, 2005. "Behavioral Public Economics: Welfare and Policy Analysis with Non-Standard Decision-Makers," NBER Working Papers 11518, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Bernheim, B. Douglas & Lemke, Robert J. & Scholz, John Karl, 2004. "Do estate and gift taxes affect the timing of private transfers?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 88(12), pages 2617-2634, December.
  7. Kenneth L. Judd, 1982. "Redistributive Taxation in a Simple Perfect Foresight Model," Discussion Papers 572, Northwestern University, Center for Mathematical Studies in Economics and Management Science.
  8. John Karl Scholz & Ananth Seshadri & Surachai Khitatrakun, 2006. "Are Americans Saving "Optimally" for Retirement?," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 114(4), pages 607-643, August.
  9. Douglas Holtz-Eakin & Donald Marples, 2001. "Distortion Costs of Taxing Wealth Accumulation: Income Versus Estate Taxes," NBER Working Papers 8261, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Thomas Piketty & Emmanuel Saez, 2007. "How progressive is the US federal tax system? A historical and international perspective," Post-Print halshs-00754244, HAL.
  11. Wojciech Kopczuk & Joseph P. Lupton, 2007. "To Leave or Not to Leave: The Distribution of Bequest Motives," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 74(1), pages 207-235.
  12. McGarry, Kathleen, 1999. "Inter vivos transfers and intended bequests," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 73(3), pages 321-351, September.
  13. 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.
  14. Joel Slemrod & Wojciech Kopczuk, 2000. "The Impact of the Estate Tax on the Wealth Accumulation and Avoidance Behavior of Donors," NBER Working Papers 7960, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  15. Laitner, John & Juster, F Thomas, 1996. "New Evidence on Altruism: A Study of TIAA-CREF Retirees," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 86(4), pages 893-908, September.
  16. Wojciech Kopczuk & Emmanuel Saez, 2004. "Top Wealth Shares in the United States: 1916-2000: Evidence from Estate Tax Returns," NBER Working Papers 10399, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  17. Chamley, Christophe, 1986. "Optimal Taxation of Capital Income in General Equilibrium with Infinite Lives," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 54(3), pages 607-22, May.
  18. Brunetti, Michael J., 2006. "The estate tax and the demise of the family business," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 90(10-11), pages 1975-1993, November.
  19. Emmanuel Saez, 2001. "Using Elasticities to Derive Optimal Income Tax Rates," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 68(1), pages 205-229.
  20. R. Glenn Hubbard & Jonathan Skinner & Stephen P. Zeldes, 1994. "Precautionary Saving and Social Insurance," NBER Working Papers 4884, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  21. Andreoni, James, 1990. "Impure Altruism and Donations to Public Goods: A Theory of Warm-Glow Giving?," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 100(401), pages 464-77, June.
  22. B. Douglas Bernheim & Sergei Severinov, 2000. "Bequests as Signals: An Explanation for the Equal Division Puzzle," NBER Working Papers 7791, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  23. S. Rao Aiyagari, 1994. "Uninsured Idiosyncratic Risk and Aggregate Saving," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 109(3), pages 659-684.
  24. Micheletto, Luca, 2008. "Redistribution and optimal mixed taxation in the presence of consumption externalities," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 92(10-11), pages 2262-2274, October.
  25. 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.
  26. Joulfaian, David & McGarry, Kathleen, 2004. "Estate and Gift Tax Incentives and Inter Vivos Giving," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 57(2), pages 429-44, June.
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