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Tax Expenditures, the Size and Efficiency of Government, and Implications for Budget Reform


  • Leonard E. Burman
  • Marvin Phaup


One possible explanation for the difficulty in controlling the budget is that a major component of spending --tax expenditures--receives privileged status. It is treated as tax cuts rather than spending. This paper explores the implications of that classification and illustrates how it can lead to higher taxes, larger government, and an inefficient mix of spending (too many tax expenditures). The paper then analyzes alternative budgeting approaches that would explicitly incorporate and measure tax expenditures. It concludes by analyzing ways to control tax expenditures (and other spending) and the special challenges presented by tax expenditures.

Suggested Citation

  • Leonard E. Burman & Marvin Phaup, 2011. "Tax Expenditures, the Size and Efficiency of Government, and Implications for Budget Reform," NBER Working Papers 17268, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:17268
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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Deborah Lucas, 2010. "Measuring and Managing Federal Financial Risk," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number luca07-1, April.
    2. Leonard E. Burman & Christopher Geissler & Eric J. Toder, 2008. "How Big Are Total Individual Income Tax Expenditures, and Who Benefits from Them?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(2), pages 79-83, May.
    3. Sijbren Cnossen & Hans-Werner Sinn (ed.), 2003. "Public Finance and Public Policy in the New Century," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262033046, January.
    4. Davie, Bruce F., 1994. "Tax Expenditures in the Federal Excise Tax System," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 47(1), pages 39-62, March.
    5. David F. Bradford, 2001. "Reforming Budgetary Language," Working Papers 128, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Center for Economic Policy Studies..
    6. Burman, Leonard E. & Rohaly, Jeffrey & Rosenberg, Joseph & Lim, Katherine C., 2010. "Catastrophic Budget Failure," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 63(3), pages 561-583, September.
    7. Davie, Bruce F., 1994. "Tax Expenditures in the Federal Excise Tax System," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 47(1), pages 39-62, March.
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    Cited by:

    1. Salvador Barrios & Serena Fatica & Diego Martinez & Gilles Mourre, 2015. "The fiscal effects of work-related tax expenditures in Europe," European Economy - Economic Papers 2008 - 2015 545, Directorate General Economic and Financial Affairs (DG ECFIN), European Commission.
    2. Alex Laurin & William Robson, 2013. "Prudence and Opportunity: A Shadow Federal Budget for 2013," C.D. Howe Institute Commentary, C.D. Howe Institute, issue 375, March.
    3. Ryta I. Dziemianowicz & Adam Wyszkowski & Renata Budlewska, 2014. "Tax expenditures jako ukryta forma wydatków publicznych," Gospodarka Narodowa, Warsaw School of Economics, issue 3, pages 35-62.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • H21 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Efficiency; Optimal Taxation
    • H24 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Personal Income and Other Nonbusiness Taxes and Subsidies
    • H50 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies - - - General
    • H62 - Public Economics - - National Budget, Deficit, and Debt - - - Deficit; Surplus

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