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Does the Harberger Model Greatly Understate the Excess Burden of the Corporate Tax? - Another Model Says Yes

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  • Jane G. Gravelle
  • Laurence J. Kotlikoff

Abstract

An important deficiency in Harberger's (1962) model of corporate income taxation is its inability to consider both corporate and noncorporate production of the same good. This precludes analysis of within-industry substitution of noncorporate for corporate production in response to the tax. Such within-industry substitution has potentially major implications for both the excess burden and incidence of the corporate tax. In Gravelle and Kotlikoff (1988) we present a new model of the corporation income tax. The model has two key characteristics. First, corporate and noncorporate firms produce (with identical production functions) each of the model's goods both before and after corporate taxation is imposed, and second, the decision of entrepreneurs to establish unincorporated business is endogenous. Compared with the Harberger model, the new model predicts a very much larger excess burden from corporate income taxation. The incidence of the corporate tax can also differ dramatically in the two models. Several commentators on our approach suggested that while corporate and noncorporate fins produce goods that are close substitutes, they are not necessarily identical goods. Others questioned the extent to which our results hinged on the endogeneity of entrepreneurship. This paper is a response to those comments. It presents a Harberger-type model (with no entrepreneurs), but one in which each industry/sector contains corporate and noncorporate fins (with identical production functions) which produce goods that are close substitutes in demand. As in our earlier model, the scope for considerable within-industry substitution of noncorporate for corporate capital leads to a very much larger excess burden than that in the Harberger model. For example, using Harberger's original 195? data and assuming unitary substitution elasticities in production and in inter-sector demand, but substitution elasticities of 30 in intra-sector demand, the excess burden of the corporate income tax in the current model is 107 percent of tax revenue. This figure is quite close to the 123 percent figure reported in Cravelle and Kotlikoff (1988) for the case of unitary substitution elasticities in production and inter-industry demand. Both numbers are considerably larger than the 8 percent excess burden figure that arises in the traditional Harberger model with unitary substitution elasticities.

Suggested Citation

  • Jane G. Gravelle & Laurence J. Kotlikoff, 1988. "Does the Harberger Model Greatly Understate the Excess Burden of the Corporate Tax? - Another Model Says Yes," NBER Working Papers 2742, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:2742
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    1. Gravelle, Jane G & Kotlikoff, Laurence J, 1989. "The Incidence and Efficiency Costs of Corporate Taxation When Corporate and Noncorporate Firms Produce the Same Good," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 97(4), pages 749-780, August.
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    Cited by:

    1. Austan Goolsbee, 2002. "The Impact and Inefficiency of the Corporate Income Tax: Evidence from State Organizational Form Data," NBER Working Papers 9141, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Goolsbee, Austan, 1998. "Taxes, organizational form, and the deadweight loss of the corporate income tax," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 69(1), pages 143-152, July.
    3. Xavier Giroud & Joshua Rauh, 2017. "State Taxation and the Reallocation of Business Activity: Evidence from Establishment-Level Data," Working Papers 17-02, Center for Economic Studies, U.S. Census Bureau.
    4. Roger H. Gordon & Jeffrey K. MacKie-Mason, 1990. "Effects of the Tax Reform Act of 1986 on Corporate Financial Policy and Organizational Form," NBER Working Papers 3222, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Xavier Giroud & Joshua D. Rauh, 2016. "State Taxation and the Reallocation of Business Activity: Evidence from Establishment-Level Data," Economics Working Papers 16103, Hoover Institution, Stanford University.
    6. Jaeger, William K., 1995. "The welfare cost of a global carbon tax when tax revenues are recycled," Resource and Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 17(1), pages 47-67, May.
    7. Cole, Rebel, 2011. "How do firms choose legal form of organization?," MPRA Paper 32591, University Library of Munich, Germany.

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