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Do Taxes Matter? Lessons From the 1980s

  • Joel Slemrod

The response of the economy to two major -- although in important respects offsetting -- tax reforms has been much smaller than ardent supply-side revolutionaries expected, thus suggesting that a reassessment of the grounds for revolt is in order. This paper offers such a reassessment by first discussing how the evidence from the tax reforms of 1981 and 1986 reflects on our understanding of the response to taxation -- with particular reference to savings and capital gains realizations. I then reconstruct a 1992 view about how taxes affect behavior. A unifying theme is that the tax system does much more than alter the relative prices of real variables -- it also provides incentives to misreport income, restructure financial claims, time transactions, change the legal form of organization, and so on. For this reason, observed low tax elasticities of real variables may be due to either low elasticities of substitution or the fact that tax policy changes opportunity sets in complex ways. Disentangling these explanations requires an emphasis on the transaction-based nature of the tax system and the administration and enforcement of tax laws.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 4008.

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Date of creation: Mar 1992
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Publication status: published as American Economic Review, Volume 82, Number 2, pp. 250-6, May 1992
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:4008
Note: PE
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  1. Hall, Robert E, 1988. "Intertemporal Substitution in Consumption," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 96(2), pages 339-57, April.
  2. Feldstein, Martin, 1982. "Inflation, Tax Rules and Investment: Some Econometric Evidence," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 50(4), pages 825-62, July.
  3. Joel Slemrod, 1989. "Optimal Taxation and Optimal Tax Systems," NBER Working Papers 3038, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Martin Feldstein & Joel Slemrod & Shlomo Yitzhaki, 1981. "The Effects of Taxation on the Selling of Corporate Stock and the Realization of Capital Gains," NBER Working Papers 0250, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Auten, Gerald E & Clotfelter, Charles T, 1982. "Permanent versus Transitory Tax Effects and the Realization of Capital Gains," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 97(4), pages 613-32, November.
  6. Douglas Holtz-Eakin & Harvey S . Rosen, 1988. "Tax Deductibility and Municipal Budget Structure," NBER Chapters, in: Fiscal Federalism: Quantitative Studies, pages 107-136 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Lucas, Robert Jr, 1976. "Econometric policy evaluation: A critique," Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 1(1), pages 19-46, January.
  8. Brunner, Karl & Meltzer, Allan H., 1976. "The Phillips curve," Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 1(1), pages 1-18, January.
  9. Alan J. Auerbach, 1988. "Capital Gains Taxation in the United States: Realizations, Revenue, and Rhetoric," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 19(2), pages 595-638.
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