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The Incidence and Efficiency Costs of Corporate Taxation when Corporate and Noncorporate Firms Produce the Same Good

  • Jane G. Gravelle
  • Laurence J. Kotlikoff

This year marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of Arnold Harberger's celebrated model of the corporation income tax. While the model has been enormously useful as an analytical device for studying two sector economies, its usefulness for understanding the incidence and excess burden of the corporate income tax remains in question. One difficulty confronting all empirical analyses of the Harberger Model is how to treat noncorporate production in primarily corporate sectors and corporate production in primarily noncorporate sectors. The Harberger Model provides no real guide to this question since it assumes that one good is produced only by corporations and the other good is produced only by noncorporate firms. Stated differently, Harberger models the differential taxation of capital used in the production of different goods, rather than the taxation of capital used by corporations per se. This paper presents a two good model with corporate and noncorporate production of both goods. The incidence of the corporate tax in our Mutual Production Model (MPM) can differ markedly from that in the Harberger model. A hallmark of Harberger's corporate tax incidence formula is its dependence on differences across sectors in elasticities of substitution between capital and labor. In contrast, the incidence of the corporate tax in the MPM may fall 100 percent on capital regardless of sector differences in substitution elasticities. The difference between the two models in the deadweight loss from corporate taxation is also striking. Using the Harberger - Shoven data and assuming unitary substitution and demand elasticities, the deadweight loss is over ten times larger in the CES version of the MPM than in the Harberger Model. Part of the explanation for this difference is that in the Harberger Model only the difference in the average corporate tax in the two sectors is distortionary, while the entire tax is distortionary in the MPM. A second reason for the larger excess burden in the MPM is that the MPM has a very large, indeed infinite, substitution elasticity in demand between corporate and noncorporate goods; in contrast, applications of the Harberger Model assume this elasticity is quite small.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 2462.

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Date of creation: Dec 1987
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 97, No. 4, pp. 749-780, (August 1989).
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:2462
Note: PE
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  1. Calvo, Guillermo A & Wellisz, Stanislaw, 1978. "Supervision, Loss of Control, and the Optimum Size of the Firm," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 86(5), pages 943-52, October.
  2. Don Fullerton & Yolanda Kodrzycki Henderson, 1987. "The Impact of Fundamental Tax Reform on the Allocation of Resources," NBER Chapters, in: The Effects of Taxation on Capital Accumulation, pages 401-444 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Christophe Chamley, 1981. "Entrepreneurial Abilities and Liabilities in a Model of Self-Selection," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 580, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University.
  4. Ebrill, Liam P & Hartman, David G, 1982. "On the Incidence and Excess Burden of the Corporation Income Tax," Public Finance = Finances publiques, , vol. 37(1), pages 48-58.
  5. Shoven, John B, 1976. "The Incidence and Efficiency Effects of Taxes on Income from Capital," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 84(6), pages 1261-83, December.
  6. Ballard, Charles L. & Fullerton, Don & Shoven, John B. & Whalley, John, 2009. "A General Equilibrium Model for Tax Policy Evaluation," National Bureau of Economic Research Books, University of Chicago Press, edition 0, number 9780226036335, March.
  7. Laurence J. Kotlikoff & Lawrence H. Summers, 1986. "Tax Incidence," NBER Working Papers 1864, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    • Kotlikoff, Laurence J. & Summers, Lawrence H., 1987. "Tax incidence," Handbook of Public Economics, in: A. J. Auerbach & M. Feldstein (ed.), Handbook of Public Economics, edition 1, volume 2, chapter 16, pages 1043-1092 Elsevier.
  8. Stiglitz, Joseph E., 1973. "Taxation, corporate financial policy, and the cost of capital," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 2(1), pages 1-34, February.
  9. Robert E. Lucas Jr., 1978. "On the Size Distribution of Business Firms," Bell Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 9(2), pages 508-523, Autumn.
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