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If Labor is Inelastic, Are Taxes Still Distorting?

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  • Don Fullerton

Abstract

Three recent papers measure the marginal excess burden of labor taxes in the United States. They obtain very different results even where they all use a zero uncompensated labor supply elasticity and assume that the additional revenue is spent on a public good that is separable in utility. The impression is that other parameters must explain the differences in results. Yet each paper uses a different concept of excess burden. Here, I calculate all three measures in one model and show how conceptual differences explain the results. Only one of these measures isolates the distortionary effects of taxes in a way that depends on the compensated labor supply elasticity. The other two measures incorporate income effects and thus depend on the actual change in labor. This result was obscured because those papers report positive marginal excess burden even with a zero uncomspensated labor supply elasticity. This paper shows conditions under which their measure is zero, and it interprets the measures in light of recent literature.

Suggested Citation

  • Don Fullerton, 1989. "If Labor is Inelastic, Are Taxes Still Distorting?," NBER Working Papers 2810, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:2810
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    1. J. R. Hicks, 1943. "The Four Consumer's Surpluses," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 11(1), pages 31-41.
    2. Browning, Edgar K, 1987. "On the Marginal Welfare Cost of Taxation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 77(1), pages 11-23, March.
    3. Alan J. Auerbach & Harvey S. Rosen, 1980. "Will the Real Excess Burden Please Stand Up? (Or, Seven Measures in Search of a Concept)," NBER Working Papers 0495, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Ballard, Charles L., 1990. "Marginal welfare cost calculations : Differential analysis vs. balanced-budget analysis," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 41(2), pages 263-276, March.
    5. Ahmed, S. & Croushore. D.D., 1988. "Substitution Effects And The Marginal Welfare Cost Of Taxation," Papers 5-88-4, Pennsylvania State - Department of Economics.
    6. Hicks, J. R., 1986. "A Revision of Demand Theory," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780198285502.
    7. King, Mervyn A., 1983. "Welfare analysis of tax reforms using household data," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 21(2), pages 183-214, July.
    8. Auerbach, Alan J., 1985. "The theory of excess burden and optimal taxation," Handbook of Public Economics,in: A. J. Auerbach & M. Feldstein (ed.), Handbook of Public Economics, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 2, pages 61-127 Elsevier.
    9. Triest, Robert K, 1990. "The Relationship between the Marginal Cost of Public Funds and Marginal Excess Burden," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 80(3), pages 557-566, June.
    10. Bizer, David S & Stuart, Charles, 1987. "The Public Finance of a Protective Tariff: The Case of an Oil Import Fee," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 77(5), pages 1019-1022, December.
    11. Ballard, Charles L & Shoven, John B & Whalley, John, 1985. "General Equilibrium Computations of the Marginal Welfare Costs of Taxes in the United States," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 75(1), pages 128-138, March.
    12. Stuart, Charles E, 1984. "Welfare Costs per Dollar of Additional Tax Revenue in the United States," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 74(3), pages 352-362, June.
    13. Diamond, P. A. & McFadden, D. L., 1974. "Some uses of the expenditure function in public finance," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 3(1), pages 3-21, February.
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    Cited by:

    1. Kaplow, Louis, 1990. "Optimal taxation with costly enforcement and evasion," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 43(2), pages 221-236, November.
    2. Jonathan Gruber, 2000. "Disability Insurance Benefits and Labor Supply," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 108(6), pages 1162-1183, December.
    3. Charles L. Ballard & Don Fullerton, 1992. "Distortionary Taxes and the Provision of Public Goods," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 6(3), pages 117-131, Summer.

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