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A Variational Approach to the Analysis of Tax Systems

Listed author(s):
  • Mikhail Golosov
  • Aleh Tsyvinski
  • Nicolas Werquin

We develop a general method to study the effects of non-linear taxation in dynamic settings using variational arguments. We first derive general theoretical formulas that characterize the welfare effects of local tax reforms and, in particular, the optimal tax system, potentially restricted within certain classes (e.g., age-independent, linear, separable). These formulas are expressed in terms of intuitive parameters, such as the labor and capital income elasticities and the hazard rates of the income distributions. Second, we apply these formulas to various specific settings. In particular, we decompose the gains arising from each element of tax reform, starting from a simple baseline system, as the available tax instruments becomes more sophisticated. We further show that the design of tax systems obeys a common general principle, namely that more sophisticated tax instruments (e.g., age-dependent, non-linear, non-separable) allow the government to fine-tune the tax rates by targeting higher distortions to the segments of the population whose behavior responds relatively little to those taxes.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 20780.

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Date of creation: Dec 2014
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:20780
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  13. Diamond, P. A., 1975. "A many-person Ramsey tax rule," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 4(4), pages 335-342, November.
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  16. Mikhail Golosov & Aleh Tsyvinski & Nicolas Werquin, 2014. "A Variational Approach to the Analysis of Tax Systems," NBER Working Papers 20780, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  17. Maag, Elaine & Steuerle, C. Eugene & Chakravarti, Ritadhi & Quakenbush, Caleb, 2012. "How Marginal Tax Rates Affect Families at Various Levels of Poverty," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 65(4), pages 759-782, December.
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  19. Emmanuel Saez & Joel Slemrod & Seth H. Giertz, 2012. "The Elasticity of Taxable Income with Respect to Marginal Tax Rates: A Critical Review," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 50(1), pages 3-50, March.
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