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Capital Gains Taxation and Tax Avoidance: New Evidence from Panel Data

  • Alan J. Auerbach
  • Leonard E. Burman
  • Jonathan Siegel

Previous theoretical analyses of the capital gains tax have suggested that investors have considerable opportunity to avoid the tax. Yet, past empirical work has found relatively little evidence of such activity. Using a previously unavailable panel data set with a very large sample of high-income individuals, this paper aims to bring the theory and evidence closer together by examining the behavior of individual taxpayers over time. Though confirming past findings that avoidance of tax on realized capital gains is not prevalent, we do observe that tax avoidance activity increased after the passage of the Tax Reform Act of 1986, and that high-income, high-wealth and more sophisticated taxpayers were most likely to avoid tax. However, the efficacy of tax avoidance strategies depends on being able to avoid tax for long periods, and we find that most tax avoidance is of relatively short duration. Thus, the effective tax rate on realized capital gains is very close to the statutory rate in all years and tax brackets.

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File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w6399.pdf
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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 6399.

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Date of creation: Feb 1998
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Publication status: published as Slemrod, J. (ed.) Does Atlas Shrug? The Economic Consequences of Taxing the Rich. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:6399
Note: PE
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  1. Altshuler, Rosanne & Auerbach, Alan J, 1990. "The Significance of Tax Law Asymmetries: An Empirical Investigation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 105(1), pages 61-86, February.
  2. Stiglitz, Joseph E., 1983. "Some aspects of the taxation of capital gains," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 21(2), pages 257-294, July.
  3. 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.
  4. Seyhun, H Nejat & Skinner, Douglas J, 1994. "How Do Taxes Affect Investors' Stock Market Realizations? Evidence from Tax-Return Panel Data," The Journal of Business, University of Chicago Press, vol. 67(2), pages 231-62, April.
  5. Feldstein, Martin & Slemrod, Joel & Yitzhaki, Shlomo, 1980. "The Effects of Taxation on the Selling of Corporate Stock and the Realization of Capital Gains," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 94(4), pages 777-91, June.
  6. James M. Poterba, 1986. "How Burdensome Are Capital Gains Taxes?," Working papers 410, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
  7. Bruce D. Meyer, 1988. "Unemployment Insurance And Unemployment Spells," NBER Working Papers 2546, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. 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.
  9. Blank, Rebecca M., 1989. "Analyzing the length of welfare spells," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 39(3), pages 245-273, August.
  10. Constantinides, George M. & Ingersoll, Jonathan Jr., 1984. "Optimal bond trading with personal taxes," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 13(3), pages 299-335, September.
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