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Meals on Wheels: Restaurant and Home Meal Production and the Exemption of Food from Sales and Value Added Taxes

  • Aled Ab Iorwerth
  • John Whalley

This paper discusses efficiency considerations underlying the widespread exemption of food from sales and value added taxes, in contrast to the distributional considerations usually used to justify them, analyzing the implications for tax policy. Although there are increasing returns in both household and market production of meals there are, nonetheless, critical differences between them. Market production is imperfectly competitive leading to average cost pricing with free entry, but because production in the household involves only one firm, any household can appropriate the consumer surplus from its own production and hence marginal cost price. We use a numerical simulation model using 1994 Canadian data with increasing returns to scale in both home and restaurant meals resulting from fixed costs and where a Dixit-Stiglitz Chamberlinian structure is used to represent restaurant meal provision. Because food (along with time and durables) is an input into home provided meals, more than full taxation of food would seem to be justified to offset the non taxation of time inputs into household production, even under constant returns to scale. Because of the differences in pricing rules between market and household production with increasing returns, not only are gains from taxing food higher but they are amplified by also subsidizing food in restaurant use, and even more by subsidizing all marginal cost components of restaurant meal provision (including labour). On efficiency grounds, the exemption of food in sales and value added taxes

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 6653.

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Date of creation: Jul 1998
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as Iorwerth, Aled ab and John Whalley. "Efficiency Considerations And The Exemption Of Food From Sales And Value Added Taxes," Canadian Journal of Economics, 2002, v34(1,Feb), 166-182.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:6653
Note: PE
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  1. Boskin, Michael J., 1975. "Efficiency aspects of the differential tax treatment of market and household economic activity," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 4(1), pages 1-25, February.
  2. Konishi, Hideki, 1990. "Final and intermediate goods taxation in an oligopolistic economy with free entry," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 42(3), pages 371-386, August.
  3. CREMER, Helmut & THISSE, Jacques-François, 1992. "Commodity taxation in a differentiated oligopoly," CORE Discussion Papers 1992035, Université catholique de Louvain, Center for Operations Research and Econometrics (CORE).
  4. Dixit, Avinash K & Stiglitz, Joseph E, 1977. "Monopolistic Competition and Optimum Product Diversity," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 67(3), pages 297-308, June.
  5. Dierickx, I. & Matutes, C. & Neven, D., 1988. "Indirect taxation and cournot equilibrium," International Journal of Industrial Organization, Elsevier, vol. 6(3), pages 385-399.
  6. Wilson, John Douglas, 1989. "On the Optimal Tax Base for Commodity Taxation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 79(5), pages 1196-1206, December.
  7. Michael L. Katz & Harvey S. Rosen, 1983. "Tax Analysis in an Oligopoly Model," NBER Working Papers 1088, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Stern, Nicholas, 1987. "The effects of taxation, price control and government contracts in oligopoly and monopolistic competition," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 32(2), pages 133-158, March.
  9. Konishi, Hideki & Okuno-Fujiwara, Masahiro & Suzumura, Kotaro, 1990. "Oligopolistic competition and economic welfare : A general equilibrium analysis of entry regulation and tax-subsidy schemes," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 42(1), pages 67-88, June.
  10. Myles, Gareth D., 1989. "Ramsey tax rules for economies with imperfect competition," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 38(1), pages 95-115, February.
  11. John Piggott & John Whalley, 1998. "VAT Base Broadening, Self Supply, and The Informal Sector," NBER Working Papers 6349, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. Delipalla, Sofia & Keen, Michael, 1992. "The comparison between ad valorem and specific taxation under imperfect competition," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 49(3), pages 351-367, December.
  13. Sandmo, Agnar, 1990. "Tax Distortions and Household Production," Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford University Press, vol. 42(1), pages 78-90, January.
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