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Shopping for Lower Sales Tax Rates

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  • Scott R. Baker
  • Stephanie Johnson
  • Lorenz Kueng

Abstract

Using comprehensive high-frequency state and local sales tax data, we show that shopping behavior responds strongly to changes in sales tax rates. Even though sales taxes are not observed in posted prices and have a wide range of rates and exemptions, consumers adjust in many dimensions. They stock up on storable goods before taxes rise and increase online and cross-border shopping in both the short and long run. The differences between short- and long-run spending responses have important implications for the efficacy of using sales taxes for counter-cyclical policy and for the design of an optimal tax framework. Interestingly, households adjust spending similarly for both taxable and tax-exempt goods. We embed an inventory problem into a continuous-time consumption-savings model and demonstrate that this seemingly irrational behavior is optimal in the presence of shopping trip fixed costs. The model successfully matches estimated short-run and long-run tax elasticities with an implied after-tax reservation wage of $7-10. We provide additional evidence in favor of this new shopping-complementarity mechanism.

Suggested Citation

  • Scott R. Baker & Stephanie Johnson & Lorenz Kueng, 2017. "Shopping for Lower Sales Tax Rates," NBER Working Papers 23665, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:23665
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    Cited by:

    1. Asatryan, Zareh & Gomtsyan, David, 2020. "The incidence of VAT evasion," ZEW Discussion Papers 20-027, ZEW - Leibniz Centre for European Economic Research.
    2. Fernando Alvarez & Francesco Lippi & Roberto Robatto, 2019. "Cost of Inflation in Inventory Theoretical Models," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 32, pages 206-226, April.
    3. Francesco D'Acunto & Daniel Hoang & Michael Weber & Michael Weber, 2019. "Managing Households' Expectations with Salient Economic Policies," CESifo Working Paper Series 7793, CESifo.
    4. Olivier Coibion & Yuriy Gorodnichenko & Dmitri Koustas, 2021. "Consumption Inequality and the Frequency of Purchases," American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics, American Economic Association, vol. 13(4), pages 449-482, October.
    5. Claudio Michelacci & Andrea Pozzi & Luigi Paciello, 2018. "The extensive margin of aggregate consumption demand," 2018 Meeting Papers 1008, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    6. Büttner, Thiess & Madzharova, Boryana, 2017. "The Effects of Pre-announced Consumption Tax Reforms on the Sales and Prices of Consumer Durables," VfS Annual Conference 2017 (Vienna): Alternative Structures for Money and Banking 168201, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.
    7. Sebastien Houde & Joseph E. Aldy, 2017. "The Efficiency Consequences of Heterogeneous Behavioral Responses to Energy Fiscal Policies," CER-ETH Economics working paper series 17/282, CER-ETH - Center of Economic Research (CER-ETH) at ETH Zurich.
    8. Scott R. Baker & Stephanie Johnson & Lorenz Kueng, 2021. "Shopping for Lower Sales Tax Rates," American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics, American Economic Association, vol. 13(3), pages 209-250, July.
    9. Benjamin Harbolt, 2019. "Tax Avoidance through E-Commerce and Cross-Border Shopping," CESifo Working Paper Series 7814, CESifo.

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D12 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Consumer Economics: Empirical Analysis
    • E21 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - Consumption; Saving; Wealth
    • H31 - Public Economics - - Fiscal Policies and Behavior of Economic Agents - - - Household

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