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Unsticking the Flypaper Effect Using Distortionary Taxation


  • Carlos A. Vegh
  • Guillermo Vuletin


The flypaper effect is a widely-documented puzzle whereby the propensity of sub-national governmental units to spend out of unconditional transfers is higher than the propensity to spend out of private income. Building on previous insights in the literature that rationalize this puzzle using costly taxation, we develop a simple optimal fiscal policy model with distortionary taxation that generates two novel and testable implications: (i) there should be a positive association between the size of the flypaper effect and the level of the tax rate, and (ii) the flypaper effect should be larger the lower the elasticity of substitution between private and public spending and, in fact, should vanish for very high degrees of substitution. We show that these hypotheses hold for Argentinean provinces and Brazilian states.

Suggested Citation

  • Carlos A. Vegh & Guillermo Vuletin, 2016. "Unsticking the Flypaper Effect Using Distortionary Taxation," NBER Working Papers 22304, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:22304
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    JEL classification:

    • H21 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Efficiency; Optimal Taxation
    • H22 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Incidence
    • H41 - Public Economics - - Publicly Provided Goods - - - Public Goods
    • H42 - Public Economics - - Publicly Provided Goods - - - Publicly Provided Private Goods
    • H62 - Public Economics - - National Budget, Deficit, and Debt - - - Deficit; Surplus
    • H77 - Public Economics - - State and Local Government; Intergovernmental Relations - - - Intergovernmental Relations; Federalism

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