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

Listed author(s):
  • Louis Kaplow

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.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 4961.

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Date of creation: Dec 1994
Publication status: published as National Tax Journal, vol. 48, no. 4, pp. 497-514, (1995).
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:4961
Note: PE
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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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