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Pareto Efficient and Optimal Taxation and the New New Welfare Economics

  • Joseph E. Stiglitz

This paper surveys recent developments in the theory of pareto efficient taxation. This literature attempts to characterize those tax structures which, given the limitations on the government's information and other limitations on the government's ability to impose taxes, maximize the welfare of one individual (group of individuals) subject to the government obtaining a given revenue and subject to other (groups of) individuals attaining certain specified levels of utility. Utilitarian (or other) social welfare functions can then be used to select among these pareto efficient tax structures. While the original goal of this line of research, which was to provide a "scientific" basis for arguing for a progressive tax structure, has not been achieved--and does not seem achievable--important insights have been gleaned, which should enable governments to make better choices of tax policies in the future. On the other hand, this research has cast serious doubt on the relevance of many long standing results, including those of Ramsey concerning the structure of commodity taxes.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 2189.

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Date of creation: Mar 1987
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Publication status: published as Stiglitz, Joseph. "Pareto Efficient and Optimal Taxation and the New New Welfare Economics." From Handbook of Public Economics, edited by Alan J. Auerbach and Martin Feldstein, pp. 991-1042. Amsterdam: Elsevier Science Publishers B.V. (North-Holland), 1987.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:2189
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  1. Richard J. Arnott & Joseph E. Stiglitz, 1983. "Moral Hazard and Optimal Commodity Taxation," NBER Working Papers 1154, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Stern, Nicholas, 1982. "Optimum taxation with errors in administration," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 17(2), pages 181-211, March.
  3. A. B. Atkinson, 1977. "Optimal Taxation and the Direct versus Indirect Tax Controversy," Canadian Journal of Economics, Canadian Economics Association, vol. 10(4), pages 590-606, November.
  4. Allen, Franklin, 1982. "Optimal linear income taxation with general equilibrium effects on wages," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 17(2), pages 135-143, March.
  5. P. Diamond & J. Helms & J. Mirrlees, 1978. "Optimal Taxation in a Stochastic Economy: A Cobb-Douglas Example," Working papers 217, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
  6. Phelps, Edmund S, 1973. "Taxation of Wage Income for Economic Justice," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 87(3), pages 331-54, August.
  7. Stiglitz, Joseph E, 1977. "Monopoly, Non-linear Pricing and Imperfect Information: The Insurance Market," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 44(3), pages 407-30, October.
  8. Atkinson, A. B. & Stiglitz, J. E., 1972. "The structure of indirect taxation and economic efficiency," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 1(1), pages 97-119, April.
  9. Eaton, Jonathan & Rosen, Harvey S., 1980. "Labor supply, uncertainty, and efficient taxation," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 14(3), pages 365-374, December.
  10. Joseph E. Stiglitz, 1981. "Self-Selection and Pareto Efficient Taxation," NBER Working Papers 0632, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. Guesnerie, Roger, 1975. "Production of the public sector and taxation in a simple second best model," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 10(2), pages 127-156, April.
  12. Azariadis, Costas & Stiglitz, Joseph E, 1983. "Implicit Contracts and Fixed Price Equilibria," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 98(3), pages 1-22, Supplemen.
  13. Cooter, Robert & Helpman, Elhanan, 1974. "Optimal Income Taxation for Transfer Payments under Different Social Welfare Criteria," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 88(4), pages 656-70, November.
  14. Mirrlees, J. A., 1976. "Optimal tax theory : A synthesis," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 6(4), pages 327-358, November.
  15. Angus Deaton, 1979. "Optimal Taxes and the Structure of Preferences," Working Papers 506, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
  16. Christophe Chamley, 1980. "Optimal Intertemporal Taxation and the Public Debt," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 554, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University.
  17. Kenneth L. Judd, 1982. "Redistributive Taxation in a Simple Perfect Foresight Model," Discussion Papers 572, Northwestern University, Center for Mathematical Studies in Economics and Management Science.
  18. Stiglitz, Joseph E., 1982. "Utilitarianism and horizontal equity : The case for random taxation," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 18(1), pages 1-33, June.
  19. Ordover, J. A. & Phelps, E. S., 1979. "The concept of optimal taxation in the overlapping-generations model of capital and wealth," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 12(1), pages 1-26, August.
  20. Partha Dasgupta & Joseph E. Stiglitz, 1972. "Benefit-Cost Analysis and Trade Policies," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 340, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University.
  21. Atkinson, A. B. & Stiglitz, J. E., 1976. "The design of tax structure: Direct versus indirect taxation," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 6(1-2), pages 55-75.
  22. Michael J. Boskin & Eytan Sheshinski, 1976. "Optimal Income Redistribution When Individual Welfare Depends Upon Relative Income," NBER Working Papers 0144, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  23. Richard Arnott & Joseph E. Stiglitz, 1985. "Randomization with Asymmetric Information a Simplified Exposition," Working Papers 594, Queen's University, Department of Economics.
  24. Joseph E. Stiglitz & Partha Dasgupta, 1970. "Differential Taxation, Public Goods, and Economic Efficiency," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 299, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University.
  25. Joseph E. Stiglitz, 1983. "Some Aspects of the Taxation of Capital Gains," NBER Working Papers 1094, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  26. Stern, N. H., 1976. "On the specification of models of optimum income taxation," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 6(1-2), pages 123-162.
  27. Mirrlees, James A, 1971. "An Exploration in the Theory of Optimum Income Taxation," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 38(114), pages 175-208, April.
  28. Stiglitz, Joseph E, 1974. "Alternative Theories of Wage Determination and Unemployment in LDC'S: The Labor Turnover Model," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 88(2), pages 194-227, May.
  29. Joel Slemrod & Shlomo Yitzhaki, 1982. "On Choosing a Flat-Rate Income Tax Schedule," NBER Working Papers 1028, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  30. Greenwald, Bruce C & Stiglitz, Joseph E, 1986. "Externalities in Economies with Imperfect Information and Incomplete Markets," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 101(2), pages 229-64, May.
  31. Baumol, William J & Bradford, David F, 1970. "Optimal Departures from Marginal Cost Pricing," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 60(3), pages 265-83, June.
  32. Raaj Kumar Sah & Joseph E. Stiglitz, 1983. "The Economics of Price Scissors," NBER Working Papers 1156, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  33. Sadka, Efraim, 1976. "On Income Distribution, Incentive Effects and Optimal Income Taxation," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 43(2), pages 261-67, June.
  34. Varian, Hal R., 1980. "Redistributive taxation as social insurance," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 14(1), pages 49-68, August.
  35. Sah, Raaj Kumar & Stiglitz, Joseph E, 1987. "Price Scissors and the Structure of the Economy," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 102(1), pages 109-34, February.
  36. Helpman, Elhanan & Sadka, Efraim, 1978. "The optimal income tax : Some comparative statics results," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 9(3), pages 383-393, June.
  37. Fair, Ray C, 1971. "The Optimal Distribution of Income," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 85(4), pages 551-79, November.
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