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High-Income Families and the Tax Changes of the 1980s: The Anatomy of Behavioral Response

  • Joel Slemrod

The relative income gains of the affluent after the passage of the Tax Reform Act of 1986 (TRA86), which sharply lowered tax rates at high income levels, are overstated by comparing cross-sectional slices using concurrent income definitions, but they are large nevertheless. Although an index of the demand-side factors affecting inequality throughout the income distribution can explain much of the increased high-income concentration until 1985, it cannot adequately explain the post-TRA86 spurt. Thus, TRA86 is likely to have been a principal cause of the large increase in the reported personal income of the affluent. A close look at the sources of the post-1986 increases in the reported individual income of high-income households suggests that much of it represents shifting of income -- for example, from the corporate tax base to the individual tax base -- and not income creation such as additional labor supply. This distinction is critical because knowing how much the reported individual income of a particular group of people changes in response to a tax change is not a sufficient statistic for evaluating adequately its revenue consequences, incidence, and efficiency.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 5218.

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Date of creation: Aug 1995
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Publication status: published as Empirical Foundations of Household Taxation, Martin Feldstein and James M. Poterba, eds., University of Chicago Press, 1996, pp. 169-189.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:5218
Note: PE
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  1. Daniel R. Feenberg & James M. Poterba, 1993. "Income Inequality and the Incomes of Very High-Income Taxpayers: Evidence from Tax Returns," NBER Chapters, in: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 7, pages 145-177 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Andrew A. Samwick, 1995. "Tax Shelters and Passive Losses After the Tax Reform Act of 1986," NBER Working Papers 5171, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Levy, Frank & Murnane, Richard J, 1992. "U.S. Earnings Levels and Earnings Inequality: A Review of Recent Trends and Proposed Explanations," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 30(3), pages 1333-81, September.
  4. Joel B. Slemrod, 1992. "Taxation and Inequality: A Time-Exposure Perspective," NBER Chapters, in: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 6, pages 105-128 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Goldin, Claudia & Margo, Robert A, 1992. "The Great Compression: The Wage Structure in the United States at Mid-century," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 107(1), pages 1-34, February.
  6. Joel Slemrod, 2001. "A General Model of the Behavioral Response to Taxation," International Tax and Public Finance, Springer, vol. 8(2), pages 119-128, March.
  7. Jeffrey K. MacKie-Mason & Roger H. Gordon, 1994. "How Much Do Taxes Discourage Incorporation?," Public Economics 9401002, EconWPA.
  8. Fisher, Franklin M, 1970. "Tests of Equality Between Sets of Coefficients in Two Linear Regressions: An Expository Note," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 38(2), pages 361-66, March.
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