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A Note on Taxation as Social Insurance for Uncertain Labor Income


  • Louis Kaplow


Various authors, notably Eaton and Rosen (1980a) and Varian (1980), have proposed that income taxation may be justified to some extent on the ground that it serves as social insurance against uncertainties in labor income. They assume that private insurance is unavailable. primarily because of moral hazard, and demonstrate that some taxation is efficient because the benefits of mitigating risk exceed incentive costs. This note suggests that private insurance should be considered explicitly in examining this question. Moral hazard problems limiting private insurance coverage are not alleviated by government insurance. Moreover, in the presence of moral hazard, government insurance, through labor income taxation or otherwise, may be an inefficient policy because private insurance decisions are distorted. More traditional justifications for redistributive taxation are unaffected by this argument.

Suggested Citation

  • Louis Kaplow, 1991. "A Note on Taxation as Social Insurance for Uncertain Labor Income," NBER Working Papers 3708, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:3708
    Note: PE

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. B. Dahlby, 1981. "Adverse selection and Pareto improvements through compulsory insurance," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 37(3), pages 547-558, January.
    2. Eaton, Jonathan & Rosen, Harvey S., 1980. "Labor supply, uncertainty, and efficient taxation," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 14(3), pages 365-374, December.
    3. Kanbur, S. M., 1981. "Risk taking and taxation : An alternative perspective," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 15(2), pages 163-184, April.
    4. John C. Harsanyi, 1953. "Cardinal Utility in Welfare Economics and in the Theory of Risk-taking," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 61, pages 434-434.
    5. Stern, Nicholas, 1982. "Optimum taxation with errors in administration," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 17(2), pages 181-211, March.
    6. Bulow, Jeremy I & Summers, Lawrence H, 1984. "The Taxation of Risky Assets," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 92(1), pages 20-39, February.
    7. Diamond, P. A. & Helms, L. J. & Mirrlees, J. A., 1980. "Optimal taxation in a stochastic economy : A Cobb-Douglas example," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 14(1), pages 1-29, August.
    8. Diamond, P. A. & Mirrlees, J. A., 1978. "A model of social insurance with variable retirement," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 10(3), pages 295-336, December.
    9. Kaplow, Louis, 1991. "Incentives and Government Relief for Risk," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 4(2), pages 167-175, April.
    10. Varian, Hal R., 1980. "Redistributive taxation as social insurance," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 14(1), pages 49-68, August.
    11. Roger H. Gordon, 1985. "Taxation of Corporate Capital Income: Tax Revenues Versus Tax Distortions," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 100(1), pages 1-27.
    12. Steven Shavell, 1979. "On Moral Hazard and Insurance," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 93(4), pages 541-562.
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    Cited by:

    1. Buiter, Willem H. & Kletzer, Kenneth, 1992. "Government Solvency, Ponzi Finance and the Redundancy and Usefulness of Public Debt," CEPR Discussion Papers 680, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    2. Holger Strulik, 2013. "School Attendance And Child Labor—A Model Of Collective Behavior," Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Association, vol. 11(2), pages 246-277, April.
    3. Elmendorf, Douglas W & Kimball, Miles S, 2000. "Taxation of Labor Income and the Demand for Risky Assets," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 41(3), pages 801-833, August.
    4. Cremer, Helmuth & Gahvari, Firouz, 1995. "Uncertainty and optimal taxation: In defense of commodity taxes," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 56(2), pages 291-310, February.
    5. Hans-Werner Sinn, 1996. "Social insurance, incentives and risk taking," International Tax and Public Finance, Springer;International Institute of Public Finance, vol. 3(3), pages 259-280, July.

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