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Distortionary Taxes and the Provision of Public Goods

  • Charles L. Ballard
  • Don Fullerton

When comparing marginal costs and benefits of a public project, most economists think in terms of adding together the marginal costs of production plus marginal costs of additional distortionary taxation. This paper clarifies how the "revenue effect" offsets the "distortionary effect." For Cobb-Douglas utility with a marginal increase in a proportional wage tax, they exactly offset each other and the Samuelson rule is unaffected. Also, with a preexisting wage tax, an incremental lump-sum tax has only this "revenue effect:" it increases labor supply, increases tax revenue from the preexisting wage tax, and thus makes the project easier to fund. In our numerical example, the incremental lump-sum tax costs taxpayers only $.77 per dollar raised.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 3506.

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Date of creation: Nov 1990
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as Journal of Economic Perspectives, Vol. 6, No. 3, pp. 117-131 (Summer 1992).
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:3506
Note: PE
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  1. 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 128-38, March.
  2. Ahmed, S. & Croushore. D.D., 1988. "Substitution Effects And The Marginal Welfare Cost Of Taxation," Papers 5-88-4, Pennsylvania State - Department of Economics.
  3. Joseph E. Stiglitz & Partha Dasgupta, 1970. "Differential Taxation, Public Goods, and Economic Efficiency," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 299, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University.
  4. Don Fullerton, 1989. "If Labor is Inelastic, Are Taxes Still Distorting?," NBER Working Papers 2810, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  6. 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.
  7. Wildasin, David E., 1979. "Public good provision with optimal and non-optimal commodity taxation : The single-consumer case," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 4(1), pages 59-64.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. Fullerton, Don, 1991. "Reconciling Recent Estimates of the Marginal Welfare Cost of Taxation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 81(1), pages 302-08, March.
  11. 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 352-62, June.
  12. Browning, Edgar K, 1987. "On the Marginal Welfare Cost of Taxation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 77(1), pages 11-23, March.
  13. Browning, Edgar K, 1976. "The Marginal Cost of Public Funds," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 84(2), pages 283-98, April.
  14. Atkinson, Anthony B & Stern, N H, 1974. "Pigou, Taxation and Public Goods," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 41(1), pages 119-28, January.
  15. Dreze, Jean & Stern, Nicholas, 1990. "Policy reform, shadow prices, and market prices," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 42(1), pages 1-45, June.
  16. Mayshar, Joram, 1990. "On measures of excess burden and their application," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 43(3), pages 263-289, December.
  17. Gahvari, Firouz, 1990. " Tax Rates, Government Expenditures and Labor Supply: Clarifying the Record," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 92(3), pages 525-30.
  18. Batina, Raymond G., 1990. "Public goods and dynamic efficiency : The modified Samuelson rule," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 41(3), pages 389-400, April.
  19. Wilson, John Douglas, 1991. "Optimal Public Good Provision with Limited Lump-Sum Taxation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 81(1), pages 153-66, March.
  20. Hansson, Ingemar & Stuart, Charles, 1985. "Tax revenue and the marginal cost of public funds in Sweden," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 27(3), pages 331-353, August.
  21. Wildasin, David E, 1984. "On Public Good Provision with Distortionary Taxation," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 22(2), pages 227-43, April.
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