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The Economics of Taxing the Rich

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  • Joel Slemrod

Abstract

How much and how to tax high-income individuals is at the core of many recent proposals for incremental as well as fundamental tax reform. This paper critically reviews the economics literature and concludes that the right answer to these questions depends in part on value judgments about which economics has little to contribute, but also depends on standard economics concerns such as the process generating income and wealth, and whether wealth individuals' economic activities have positive (or negative) externalities. How much and how to tax the rich also depends critically on how they will respond to attempts to tax them because, other things equal, it is wise to limit the extent to which they are induced to pursue less socially productive activities in order to avoid taxes.

Suggested Citation

  • Joel Slemrod, 1998. "The Economics of Taxing the Rich," NBER Working Papers 6584, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:6584
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Schmidt-Hebbel, Klaus & Serven, Luis, 1996. "Income inequality and aggregate saving : the cross-country evidence," Policy Research Working Paper Series 1561, The World Bank.
    2. 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.
    3. Alan S. Blinder & Irving Kristol & Wilbur J. Cohen, 1980. "The Level and Distribution of Economic Well-Being," NBER Chapters,in: The American Economy in Transition, pages 415-500 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Allen, Franklin, 1982. "Optimal linear income taxation with general equilibrium effects on wages," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 17(2), pages 135-143, March.
    5. Deininger, Klaus & Squire, Lyn, 1998. "New ways of looking at old issues: inequality and growth," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 57(2), pages 259-287.
    6. Magee,Stephen P. & Brock,William A. & Young,Leslie, 1989. "Black Hole Tariffs and Endogenous Policy Theory," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521377003, March.
    7. Alberto Alesina & Dani Rodrik, 1994. "Distributive Politics and Economic Growth," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 109(2), pages 465-490.
    8. 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.
    9. Musgrave, Philip, 1980. "Income Distribution and the Aggregate Consumption Function," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 88(3), pages 504-525, June.
    10. Joel Slemrod, 2001. "A General Model of the Behavioral Response to Taxation," International Tax and Public Finance, Springer;International Institute of Public Finance, vol. 8(2), pages 119-128, March.
    11. Joel Slemrod & Shlomo Yitzhaki, 1996. "The Costs of Taxation and the Marginal Efficiency Cost of Funds," IMF Staff Papers, Palgrave Macmillan, vol. 43(1), pages 172-198, March.
    12. Joel Slemrod & Jon Bakija, 2004. "Taxing Ourselves, 3rd Edition: A Citizen's Guide to the Debate over Taxes," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 3, volume 1, number 026269302x, January.
    13. Oded Galor & Joseph Zeira, 1993. "Income Distribution and Macroeconomics," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 60(1), pages 35-52.
    14. Diamond, Peter A, 1998. "Optimal Income Taxation: An Example with a U-Shaped Pattern of Optimal Marginal Tax Rates," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 88(1), pages 83-95, March.
    15. Slemrod, Joel & Yitzhaki, Shlomo & Mayshar, Joram & Lundholm, Michael, 1994. "The optimal two-bracket linear income tax," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 53(2), pages 269-290, February.
    16. Martin Feldstein, 1999. "Tax Avoidance And The Deadweight Loss Of The Income Tax," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 81(4), pages 674-680, November.
    17. Mirrlees, J. A., 1976. "Optimal tax theory : A synthesis," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 6(4), pages 327-358, November.
    18. J. A. Mirrlees, 1971. "An Exploration in the Theory of Optimum Income Taxation," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 38(2), pages 175-208.
    19. Slemrod, Joel, 1990. "Optimal Taxation and Optimal Tax Systems," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 4(1), pages 157-178, Winter.
    20. Persson, Torsten & Tabellini, Guido, 1994. "Is Inequality Harmful for Growth?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 84(3), pages 600-621, June.
    21. Avery, Robert B & Kennickell, Arthur B, 1991. "Household Saving in the U.S," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 37(4), pages 409-432, December.
    22. Efraim Sadka, 1976. "On Income Distribution, Incentive Effects and Optimal Income Taxation," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 43(2), pages 261-267.
    23. Slemrod, Joel, 1994. "Fixing the leak in Okun's bucket optimal tax progressivity when avoidance can be controlled," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 55(1), pages 41-51, September.
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    Cited by:

    1. Frydman, Carola & Molloy, Raven S., 2011. "Does tax policy affect executive compensation? Evidence from postwar tax reforms," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 95(11), pages 1425-1437.
    2. Mihir A. Desai & Dhammika Dharmapala & Winnie Fung, 2005. "Taxation and the Evolution of Aggregate Corporate Ownership Concentration," NBER Working Papers 11469, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Justin M. Ross & Robert R. Dunn, 2007. "The Income Tax Responsiveness Of The Rich: Evidence From Free Agent Major League Baseball All-Stars," Contemporary Economic Policy, Western Economic Association International, vol. 25(4), pages 639-648, October.

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    JEL classification:

    • H20 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - General

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