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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
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Publication status: published as Journal of Economic Perspectives, Vol. 6, No. 3, pp. 117-131 (Summer 1992).
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:3506
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  1. 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.
  2. J. E. Stiglitz & P. Dasgupta, 1971. "Differential Taxation, Public Goods, and Economic Efficiency," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 38(2), pages 151-174.
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  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. Wildasin, David E, 1984. "On Public Good Provision with Distortionary Taxation," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 22(2), pages 227-43, April.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. 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.
  16. Dreze, Jean & Stern, Nicholas, 1990. "Policy reform, shadow prices, and market prices," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 42(1), pages 1-45, June.
  17. Don Fullerton, 1989. "If Labor is Inelastic, Are Taxes Still Distorting?," NBER Working Papers 2810, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  18. Ballard, Charles L. & Medema, Steven G., 1993. "The marginal efficiency effects of taxes and subsidies in the presence of externalities : A computational general equilibrium approach," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 52(2), pages 199-216, September.
  19. Browning, Edgar K, 1987. "On the Marginal Welfare Cost of Taxation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 77(1), pages 11-23, March.
  20. A. B. Atkinson & N. H. Stern, 1974. "Pigou, Taxation and Public Goods," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 41(1), pages 119-128.
  21. Mayshar, Joram, 1990. "On measures of excess burden and their application," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 43(3), pages 263-289, December.
  22. 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.
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