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A Fundamental Objection to Tax Equity Norms: A Call for Utilitarianism

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  • Louis Kaplow

Abstract

Anti-utilitarian norms often are used in assessing tax systems. Two motivations support this practice. First, many believe utilitarianism to be insufficiently egalitarian. Second, utilitarianism does not give independent weight to other equitable principles, notably concerns that reforms may violate horizontal equity or result in rank reversals in the income distribution. This investigation suggests that a policy maker who believes in the Pareto principle -- that any reform preferred by everyone should be adopted - - cannot consistently adhere to any of these anti-utilitarian sentiments. Moreover, the affirmative case for utilitarian tax policy assessment is stronger than is generally appreciated.

Suggested Citation

  • Louis Kaplow, 1994. "A Fundamental Objection to Tax Equity Norms: A Call for Utilitarianism," NBER Working Papers 4961, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:4961 Note: PE
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Ng, Yew-Kwang, 1971. "The Possibility of a Paretian Liberal: Impossibility Theorems and Cardinal Utility," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 79(6), pages 1397-1402, Nov.-Dec..
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    Cited by:

    1. Duclos, Jean-Yves & Jalbert, Vincent & Araar, Abdelkrim, 2000. "Classical Horizontal Inequity and Reranking: an Integrated Approach," Cahiers de recherche 0002, Université Laval - Département d'économique.
    2. Louis Kaplow, 1995. "How Tax Complexity and Enforcement Affect the Equity and Efficiency of The Income Tax," NBER Working Papers 5391, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Louis Kaplow & David Weisbach, 2011. "Discount rates, social judgments, individuals’ risk preferences, and uncertainty," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 42(2), pages 125-143, April.
    4. Duclos, Jean-Yves & Jalbert, Vincent & Araar, Abdelkrim, 2003. "Classical Horizontal Inequity and Reranking: an Integrating Approach," Cahiers de recherche 0306, CIRPEE.
    5. Henrik Jordahl & Luca Micheletto, 2005. "Optimal Utilitarian Taxation and Horizontal Equity," Journal of Public Economic Theory, Association for Public Economic Theory, vol. 7(4), pages 681-708, October.
    6. Sören Blomquist & Luca Micheletto, 2008. "Age-related Optimal Income Taxation," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 110(1), pages 45-71, March.
    7. Olof Johansson-Stenman & Fredrik Carlsson & Dinky Daruvala, 2002. "Measuring Future Grandparents" Preferences for Equality and Relative Standing," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 112(479), pages 362-383, April.
    8. Johansson-Stenman, Olof & Carlsson, Fredrik & Daruvala, Dinky, 2001. "Measuring Hypothetical Grandparents Preferences For Equality And Relative Standings," Working Papers in Economics 42, University of Gothenburg, Department of Economics.
    9. Johansson-Stenman, Olof, 2001. "Should We Use Distributional Weights in CBA When Income Taxes Can Deal with Equity?," Working Papers in Economics 35, University of Gothenburg, Department of Economics.
    10. Louis Kaplow, 2003. "Transition Policy: A Conceptual Framework," NBER Working Papers 9596, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • H21 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Efficiency; Optimal Taxation

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