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A Distribution-Neutral Perspective On Tax Expenditure Limitations

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  • Louis Kaplow

Abstract

A recent wave of literature, partly motivated by presidential campaign tax reform plans, analyzes tax expenditure limitation proposals. These reforms are often advanced not only, or even primarily, because they reduce distortions caused by favoritism for some types of expenditures over others. Largely they are urged for a number of other reasons: on distributive grounds, because the resulting broader base enables lower marginal tax rates and hence less distortion of labor effort and other margins, and to raise revenue without requiring higher marginal tax rates. It is generally recognized that the particular results on these dimensions are heavily dependent on what sorts of rate adjustments are used to return the proceeds to taxpayers. Often, revenue neutrality is assumed. This essay advances a complementary, distribution-neutral perspective on the analysis of tax expenditure limitations. Distribution-neutral implementation provides an illuminating benchmark against which to understand prior analysts’ large number of results and, more importantly, clarifies the analysis, particularly of the distribution-distortion tradeoff. The central lessons contradict the common belief that one can have less distortion of labor supply through lower marginal tax rates while also maintaining or enhancing progressivity.

Suggested Citation

  • Louis Kaplow, 2016. "A Distribution-Neutral Perspective On Tax Expenditure Limitations," NBER Working Papers 22733, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:22733
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Kaplow, Louis, 2006. "On the undesirability of commodity taxation even when income taxation is not optimal," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 90(6-7), pages 1235-1250, August.
    2. By Louis Kaplow, 2012. "Optimal Control Of Externalities In The Presence Of Income Taxation," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 53(2), pages 487-509, May.
    3. Kopczuk, Wojciech, 2005. "Tax bases, tax rates and the elasticity of reported income," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 89(11-12), pages 2093-2119, December.
    4. Louis Kaplow, 2004. "On the (Ir)Relevence of Distribution and Labor Supply Distortion of Government Policy," NBER Working Papers 10490, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Eric J. Toder & Joseph Rosenberg & Amanda Eng, 2013. "Evaluating Broad-Based Approaches for Limiting Tax Expenditures," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association;National Tax Journal, vol. 66(4), pages 807-832, December.
    6. J. A. Mirrlees, 1971. "An Exploration in the Theory of Optimum Income Taxation," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 38(2), pages 175-208.
    7. Hylland, Aanund & Zeckhauser, Richard, 1979. " Distributional Objectives Should Affect Taxes but not Program Choice or Design," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 81(2), pages 264-284.
    8. Louis Kaplow, 2004. "On the (Ir)Relevance of Distribution and Labor Supply Distortion to Government Policy," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 18(4), pages 159-175, Fall.
    9. 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.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • H21 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Efficiency; Optimal Taxation
    • H22 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Incidence
    • H23 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Externalities; Redistributive Effects; Environmental Taxes and Subsidies
    • H24 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Personal Income and Other Nonbusiness Taxes and Subsidies
    • K34 - Law and Economics - - Other Substantive Areas of Law - - - Tax Law

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