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Can Capital Income Taxes Survive in Open Economies?

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  • Roger H. Gordon

Abstract

Recent theoretical work has argued that a small open economy should use residence-based but not source-based taxes on capital income. Given the ease with which residents can evade domestic taxes on foreign earnings from capital, however, a residence-based tax may not be administratively feasible, leaving no taxes on capital income. The objective of this paper is to explore possible reasons why capital income taxes have survived in the past, in spite of the above pressures. Any bilateral approach, such as sharing of information among governments or direct coordination of tax rates, suffers from the problem that the coalition of countries is itself a small open economy, so subject to the same pressures. Capital controls, preventing capital outflows, may well be a sensible policy response and were in fact used by a number of countries. Such controls have many drawbacks, however, and a number of countries are now abandoning them. The final hypothesis explored is that the tax-crediting conventions, used to prevent the double taxation of international capital flows, served also to coordinate tax rates. The paper shows that while no Nash equilibrium in tax rates exists, given these tax-crediting conventions, a Stackelberg equilibrium does exist if there is either a dominant capital exporter or a dominant capital importer, in spite of the ease of tax evasion. While the U.S. , as the dominant capital exporter during much of the postwar period, may well have served as this Stackelberg leader, world capital markets are now more complicated. These tax-crediting conventions may no longer be sufficient to sustain capital-income taxation.

Suggested Citation

  • Roger H. Gordon, 1990. "Can Capital Income Taxes Survive in Open Economies?," NBER Working Papers 3416, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:3416
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    1. Gordon, Roger H. & Varian, Hal R., 1989. "Taxation of asset income in the presence of a world securities market," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 26(3-4), pages 205-226, May.
    2. Auerbach, Alan J, 1991. "Retrospective Capital Gains Taxation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 81(1), pages 167-178, March.
    3. Roger H. Gordon & Joel Slemrod, 1988. "Do We Collect Any Revenue from Taxing Capital Income?," NBER Chapters,in: Tax Policy and the Economy: Volume 2, pages 89-130 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Giovannini, Alberto & Hines Jr, James R, 1990. "Capital Flight and Tax Competition: Are there Viable Solutions to Both Problems," CEPR Discussion Papers 416, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    5. Findlay, Christopher C, 1986. "Optimal Taxation of International Income Flows," The Economic Record, The Economic Society of Australia, vol. 62(177), pages 208-214, June.
    6. Roger H. Gordon, 1983. "An Optimal Taxation Approach to Fiscal Federalism," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 98(4), pages 567-586.
    7. Bond, Eric W & Samuelson, Larry, 1989. "Strategic Behaviour and the Rules for International Taxation of Capital," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 99(398), pages 1099-1111, December.
    8. Razin, A. & Sadka, E., 1989. "Capital Market Integration: Issues Of International Taxation," Papers 40-89, Tel Aviv.
    9. Peter A. Diamond & J. A. Mirrlees, 1968. "Optimal Taxation and Public Production," Working papers 22, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
    10. Hartman, David G., 1985. "Tax policy and foreign direct investment," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 26(1), pages 107-121, February.
    11. Hans-Werner Sinn, 1990. "Can Direct and Indirect Taxes Be Added for International Comparisons of Competitiveness?," NBER Working Papers 3263, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    12. Gordon, Roger & Kalambokidis, Laura & Slemrod, Joel, 2004. "Do we now collect any revenue from taxing capital income?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 88(5), pages 981-1009, April.
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