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The General Theory of Tax Avoidance

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  • Joseph E. Stiglitz

Abstract

This paper outlines a general set of principles for tax avoidance. Most of at least the common tax avoidance schemes can be reinterpreted as making use of one or more of these principles. Four such methods are described. In a perfect capital market, these methods would enable the astute taxpayer to eliminate all taxation on capital income. The fact that the tax system raises revenue is attributed to lack of astuteness of the taxpayer and/or lack of perfection of the capital market. Accordingly, models which attempt to analyze the effects of taxation assuming rational, maximizing taxpayers working within a perfect capital market may give misleading results.A full analysis of tax avoidance cannot be conducted within a partial equilibrium model; transactions which reduce one individual's tax liability may at the same time increase another's.We delineate tax avoidance schemes which reduce the aggregate tax liabilities of the participants. Much of the"general equilibrium" gain from tax avoidance arises from differences in tax rates, both across individuals and across classes of income. Our analysis is shown to have implications both for patterns of ownership of assets and the timing of transfers.

Suggested Citation

  • Joseph E. Stiglitz, 1986. "The General Theory of Tax Avoidance," NBER Working Papers 1868, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:1868
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Feenberg, Daniel, 1981. "Does the investment interest limitation explain the existence of dividends?," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 9(3), pages 265-269, September.
    2. Stiglitz, Joseph E., 1983. "Some aspects of the taxation of capital gains," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 21(2), pages 257-294, July.
    3. Greenwald, Bruce & Stiglitz, Joseph E & Weiss, Andrew, 1984. "Informational Imperfections in the Capital Market and Macroeconomic Fluctuations," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 74(2), pages 194-199, May.
    4. Stiglitz, Joseph E & Weiss, Andrew, 1983. "Incentive Effects of Terminations: Applications to the Credit and Labor Markets," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 73(5), pages 912-927, December.
    5. Stiglitz, Joseph E, 1985. "Information and Economic Analysis: A Perspective," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 95(380a), pages 21-41, Supplemen.
    6. Stiglitz, Joseph E., 1976. "The corporation tax," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 5(3-4), pages 303-311.
    7. Joseph E. Stiglitz, 1981. "Information and Capital Markets," NBER Working Papers 0678, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Stiglitz, Joseph E & Weiss, Andrew, 1981. "Credit Rationing in Markets with Imperfect Information," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 71(3), pages 393-410, June.
    9. Stiglitz, Joseph E., 1973. "Taxation, corporate financial policy, and the cost of capital," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 2(1), pages 1-34, February.
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    Cited by:

    1. Roger Gordon & Laura Kalambokidis & Joel Slemrod, 2003. "A New Summary Measure of the Effective Tax Rate on Investment," NBER Working Papers 9535, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Agell, Jonas & Persson, Mats, 2000. "Tax arbitrage and labor supply," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 78(1-2), pages 3-24, October.
    3. Roger H. Gordon, 1990. "Canada - U.S. Free Trade and Pressures for Tax Harmonization," NBER Working Papers 3327, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Rydqvist, Kristian & Schwartz, Steven T. & Spizman, Joshua D., 2014. "The tax benefit of income smoothing," Journal of Banking & Finance, Elsevier, vol. 38(C), pages 78-88.

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