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Horizontal Equity: Measures in Search of a Principle

  • Louis Kaplow

Horizontal equity -- the command that equals be treated equally -- has received increased attention, particularly in attempts to measure the desirability of tax reform proposals. This paper questions whether the normative foundations for horizontal equity justify the indexes and approaches that have generally been adopted. It suggests that past attempts to implement horizontal equity are inconsistent with its supposed foundations and that more thorough examination of the concept raises serious doubts as to whether any alternative interpretation of horizontal equity reasonably consistent with common understanding of the concept can be justified.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 1679.

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Date of creation: Aug 1985
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as National Tax Journal, Vol. XLII, No. 2, pp. 139-154, (June 1989).
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:1679
Note: PE
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  1. Plotnick, Robert, 1982. "The concept and measurement of horizontal inequity," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 17(3), pages 373-391, April.
  2. King, Mervyn A, 1983. "An Index of Inequality: With Applications to Horizontal Equity and Social Mobility," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 51(1), pages 99-115, January.
  3. Sen, Amartya K, 1977. "On Weights and Measures: Informational Constraints in Social Welfare Analysis," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 45(7), pages 1539-72, October.
  4. Joseph E. Stiglitz, 1981. "Utilitarianism and Horizontal Equity: The Case for Random Taxation," NBER Working Papers 0694, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Sen, Amartya, 1973. "On Economic Inequality," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780198281931, December.
  6. Weiss, Laurence, 1976. "The Desirability of Cheating Incentives and Randomness in the Optimal Income Tax," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 84(6), pages 1343-52, December.
  7. Walter Hettich, 1979. "A Theory of Partial Tax Reform," Canadian Journal of Economics, Canadian Economics Association, vol. 12(4), pages 692-712, November.
  8. John C. Harsanyi, 1953. "Cardinal Utility in Welfare Economics and in the Theory of Risk-taking," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 61, pages 434.
  9. Plotnick, Robert, 1981. "A Measure of Horizontal Inequity," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 63(2), pages 283-88, May.
  10. John C. Harsanyi, 1955. "Cardinal Welfare, Individualistic Ethics, and Interpersonal Comparisons of Utility," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 63, pages 309.
  11. Brennan, Geoffrey, 1971. "Horizontal Equity: An Extension of an Extension," Public Finance = Finances publiques, , vol. 26(3), pages 437-56.
  12. Feldstein, Martin, 1976. "On the theory of tax reform," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 6(1-2), pages 77-104.
  13. Richard Schmalensee, 1984. "Imperfect Information and the Equitability of Competitive Prices," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 99(3), pages 441-460.
  14. Harvey S. Rosen, 1978. "An Approach to the Study of Income, Utility, and Horizontal Equity," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 92(2), pages 307-322.
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