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The General Theory of Tax Avoidance

  • Joseph E. Stiglitz

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.

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File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w1868.pdf
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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 1868.

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Date of creation: Mar 1986
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as Stiglitz, Joseph E. "The General Theory of Tax Avoidance," National Tax Journal, Volume XXXVIII, No. 3, September 1985, pp. 325-338.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:1868
Note: PE
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  1. Stiglitz, Joseph E., 1983. "Some aspects of the taxation of capital gains," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 21(2), pages 257-294, July.
  2. 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.
  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 194-99, May.
  4. Daniel R. Feenberg, 1980. "Does the Investment Interest Limitation Explain the Existence of Dividends?," NBER Working Papers 0530, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. 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 912-27, December.
  6. Joseph E. Stiglitz, 1981. "Information and Capital Markets," NBER Working Papers 0678, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Stiglitz, Joseph E., 1976. "The corporation tax," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 5(3-4), pages 303-311.
  8. 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.
  9. Stiglitz, Joseph E, 1985. "Information and Economic Analysis: A Perspective," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 95(380a), pages 21-41, Supplemen.
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