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Why do we Redistribute so Much but Tag so Little? The principle of equal sacrifice and optimal taxation

  • Matthew C. Weinzierl

The workhorse model of optimal taxation strongly recommends tagging, but its use in policy is limited. I argue that this puzzle is a symptom of a more fundamental problem. Conventional theory neglects the diverse normative criteria with which, as extensive evidence has shown, most people evaluate policy. In particular, if the classic principle of Equal Sacri...ce augments the standard Utilitarian criterion, optimal tagging is limited. Calibrated simulations of optimal policy with normative diversity of this type simultaneously match three features of U.S. policy: substantial income redistribution; rejection of gender, race, and height tags; and acceptance of a blindness tag. Additional implications increase the appeal of this revision to conventional theory.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 18045.

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Date of creation: May 2012
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:18045
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  1. Young, H. P., 1988. "Distributive justice in taxation," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 44(2), pages 321-335, April.
  2. Robin Boadway & Pierre Pestieau, 2006. "Tagging and Redistributive Taxation," Working Papers 1071, Queen's University, Department of Economics.
  3. Alesina, Alberto F & Ichino, Andrea & Karabarbounis, Loukas, 2007. "Gender Based Taxation and the Division of Family Chores," CEPR Discussion Papers 6591, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  4. Mankiw, N. Gregory & Weinzierl, Matthew Charles & Yagan, Danny Ferris, 2009. "Optimal Taxation in Theory and Practice," Scholarly Articles 4263739, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  5. N. Gregory Mankiw & Matthew C. Weinzierl, 2009. "The Optimal Taxation of Height: A Case Study of Utilitarian Income Redistribution," Harvard Business School Working Papers 09-139, Harvard Business School.
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  7. Yaari, Menahem E., 1988. "A controversial proposal concerning inequality measurement," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 44(2), pages 381-397, April.
  8. Feldstein, Martin, 1976. "On the theory of tax reform," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 6(1-2), pages 77-104.
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  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.
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  13. Besley, Timothy & Coate, Stephen, 1992. "Workfare versus Welfare Incentive Arguments for Work Requirements in Poverty-Alleviation Programs," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 82(1), pages 249-61, March.
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  15. Marc Fleurbaey & Francois Maniquet, 2002. "Fair Income Tax," Economics Working Papers 0021, Institute for Advanced Study, School of Social Science.
  16. Matthew Weinzierl, 2011. "The Surprising Power of Age-Dependent Taxes," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 78(4), pages 1490-1518.
  17. Moulin, Herve, 1981. "The Proportional Veto Principle," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 48(3), pages 407-16, July.
  18. Benjamin B. Lockwood & Matthew Weinzierl, 2012. "De Gustibus non est Taxandum: Heterogeneity in Preferences and Optimal Redistribution," Harvard Business School Working Papers 12-063, Harvard Business School, revised Sep 2014.
  19. Diamond, P., 1994. "Optimal Income Taxation: An Exemple with a U-Shaped Pattern of Optimal Marginal Tax Rates," Working papers 94-14, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
  20. Alexander W. Cappelen & Astri D. Hole & Erik Ø. Sørensen & Bertil Tungodden, 2005. "The Pluralism of Fairness Ideals: An Experimental Approach," CESifo Working Paper Series 1611, CESifo Group Munich.
  21. Emmanuel Saez, 2000. "Using Elasticities to Derive Optimal Income Tax Rates," NBER Working Papers 7628, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  22. Louis Kaplow & Steven Shavell, 2001. "Any Non-welfarist Method of Policy Assessment Violates the Pareto Principle," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 109(2), pages 281-286, April.
  23. 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.
  24. Konow, James, 2001. "Fair and square: the four sides of distributive justice," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 46(2), pages 137-164, October.
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