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The Promise of Positive Optimal Taxation: Normative Diversity and a role for Equal Sacrifice

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  • Matthew Weinzierl

Abstract

A prominent assumption in modern optimal tax research is that the objective of taxation is Utilitarian. I present new survey evidence that most people reject this assumptionʼs implications for several prominent features of tax policy, instead preferring tax policies based at least in part on a classic alternative objective: the principle of Equal Sacrifice. I generalize the standard model to accommodate this preference for a mixed objective, proposing a method by which to make disparate criteria commensurable while respecting Pareto efficiency. Then, I show that optimal policy in this generalized model, calibrated to the survey evidence and U.S. microdata, is capable of quantitatively matching several features of existing tax policy that are incompatible in the conventional model but widely endorsed in the survey and reality, including the coexistence of substantial redistribution and limited tagging. Together, these findings demonstrate the potential of a positive theory of optimal taxation.

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  • Matthew Weinzierl, 2012. "The Promise of Positive Optimal Taxation: Normative Diversity and a role for Equal Sacrifice," NBER Working Papers 18599, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:18599
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    Cited by:

    1. Matthew Weinzierl, 2014. "Revisiting the Classical View of Benefit-Based Taxation," NBER Working Papers 20735, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Felix J. Bierbrauer & Pierre C. Boyer, 2016. "Efficiency, Welfare, and Political Competition," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 131(1), pages 461-518.
    3. Emmanuel Saez & Stefanie Stantcheva, 2016. "Generalized Social Marginal Welfare Weights for Optimal Tax Theory," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 106(1), pages 24-45, January.
    4. da Costa, Carlos E. & Pereira, Thiago, 2014. "On the efficiency of equal sacrifice income tax schedules," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 70(C), pages 399-418.
    5. Laurence Ales & Antonio Andres Bellofatto & Jessie Jiaxu Wang, 2017. "Taxing Atlas: Executive Compensation, Firm Size and Their Impact on Optimal Top Income Tax Rates," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 26, pages 62-90, October.
    6. Bo Hyun Chang & Yongsung Chang & Sun-Bin Kim, 2016. "Pareto Weights in Practice: A Quantitative Analysis Across 32 OECD Countries," Working papers 2016rwp-92, Yonsei University, Yonsei Economics Research Institute.
    7. Jessen, Robin & Metzing, Maria & Rostam-Afschar, Davud, 2017. "Optimal taxation under different concepts of justness," Discussion Papers 2017/26, Free University Berlin, School of Business & Economics.
    8. Rafael Di Tella & Juan Dubra & Alejandro Luis Lagomarsino, 2016. "Meet the Oligarchs: Business Legitimacy, State Capacity and Taxation," NBER Working Papers 22934, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. Matthew Weinzierl, 2017. "A Welfarist Role for Nonwelfarist Rules: An example with envy," NBER Working Papers 23587, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    10. Raymond Fisman & Keith Gladstone & Ilyana Kuziemko & Suresh Naidu, 2017. "Do Americans Want to Tax Capital? Evidence from Online Surveys," NBER Working Papers 23907, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    11. Lockwood, Benjamin B. & Weinzierl, Matthew, 2016. "Positive and normative judgments implicit in U.S. tax policy, and the costs of unequal growth and recessions," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 77(C), pages 30-47.
    12. Matthew Weinzierl, 2017. "A Welfarist Role for Nonwelfarist Rules: An example with envy," 2017 Meeting Papers 158, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    13. Jimmy Charité & Raymond Fisman & Ilyana Kuziemko, 2015. "Reference Points and Redistributive Preferences: Experimental Evidence," NBER Working Papers 21009, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    14. Alexander Ludwig & Dirk Krueger, 2010. "Optimal Progressive Taxation and Education Subsidies in a Model of Endogenous Human Capital Formation," 2010 Meeting Papers 388, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    15. Matthew C. Weinzierl, 2016. "A Welfarist Role for Nonwelfarist Rules: An example with envy," Harvard Business School Working Papers 17-021, Harvard Business School, revised Jul 2017.
    16. Matthew Weinzierl, 2016. "Popular Acceptance of Inequality due to Brute Luck and Support for Classical Benefit-Based Taxation," NBER Working Papers 22462, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    17. Benoît Tarroux, 2017. "The value of progressivity: Evidence from survey experiments," Economics Working Paper Archive (University of Rennes 1 & University of Caen) 2017-13, Center for Research in Economics and Management (CREM), University of Rennes 1, University of Caen and CNRS.
    18. Ilyana Kuziemko & Michael I. Norton & Emmanuel Saez & Stefanie Stantcheva, 2015. "How Elastic Are Preferences for Redistribution? Evidence from Randomized Survey Experiments," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 105(4), pages 1478-1508, April.
    19. Benjamin B. Lockwood & Matthew Weinzierl, 2014. "Positive and Normative Judgments Implicit in U.S. Tax Policy, and the Costs of Unequal Growth and Recessions," Harvard Business School Working Papers 14-119, Harvard Business School, revised Oct 2014.
    20. Alexis Anagnostopoulos & Eva Carceles-Poveda & Yair Tauman, 2016. "Value Preserving Welfare Weights for Social Optimization Problems," Department of Economics Working Papers 16-06, Stony Brook University, Department of Economics.
    21. repec:red:issued:16-35 is not listed on IDEAS
    22. Bierbrauer Felix J., 2016. "Effizienz oder Gerechtigkeit?," Perspektiven der Wirtschaftspolitik, De Gruyter, vol. 17(1), pages 2-24, April.
    23. repec:eee:pubeco:v:155:y:2017:i:c:p:54-63 is not listed on IDEAS
    24. Bo Hyun Chang & Yongsung Chang & Sun-Bin Kim, 2016. "Ex-ante Heterogeneity and Equilibrium Redistribution(Preliminary)," Working papers 2016rwp-93, Yonsei University, Yonsei Economics Research Institute.
    25. Felix Bierbrauer, 2016. "Effizienz oder Gerechtigkeit? Ungleiche Einkommen, ungleiche Vermögen und die Theorie der optimalen Besteuerung," Discussion Paper Series of the Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods 2016_03, Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods.

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    JEL classification:

    • D6 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics
    • D63 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement
    • H2 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue
    • H21 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Efficiency; Optimal Taxation

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