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Using Elasticities to Derive Optimal Income Tax Rates

  • Emmanuel Saez

This paper derives optimal income tax formulas using compensated and uncompensated elasticities of earnings with respect to tax rates. A simple formula for the high income optimal tax rate is obtained as a function of these elasticities and the thickness of the top tail of the income distribution. In the general non-linear income tax problem, this method using elasticities shows precisely how the different economic effects come into play and which are the key relevant parameters in the optimal income tax formulas of Mirrlees. The optimal non-linear tax rate formulas are expressed in terms of elasticities and the shape of the income distribution. These formulas are implemented numerically using empirical earnings distributions and a range of realistic elasticity parameters.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 7628.

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Date of creation: Mar 2000
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Publication status: published as Saez, Emmanuel. "Using Elasticities To Drive Optimal Income Tax Rates," Review of Economic Studies, 2001, v68(234,Jan), 205-229.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:7628
Note: PE
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  1. Richard Blundell & Thomas MaCurdy, 1998. "Labour supply: a review of alternative approaches," IFS Working Papers W98/18, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
  2. Charles L. Ballard & Don Fullerton, 1993. "Distortionary Taxes and the Provision of Public Goods," NBER Working Papers 3506, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Ahmad, Ehtisham & Stern, Nicholas, 1984. "The theory of reform and indian indirect taxes," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 25(3), pages 259-298, December.
  4. Diamond, P., 1994. "Optimal Income Taxation: An Exemple with a U-Shaped Pattern of Optimal Marginal Tax Rates," Working papers 94-14, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
  5. Dahlby, Bev, 1998. "Progressive taxation and the social marginal cost of public funds," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 67(1), pages 105-122, January.
  6. Emmanuel Saez, 2000. "Using Elasticities to Derive Optimal Income Tax Rates," NBER Working Papers 7628, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Atkinson, A. B., 1990. "Public economics and the economic public," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 34(2-3), pages 225-248, May.
  8. Gruber, Jon & Saez, Emmanuel, 2002. "The elasticity of taxable income: evidence and implications," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 84(1), pages 1-32, April.
  9. Seade, Jesus, 1982. "On the Sign of the Optimum Marginal Income Tax," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 49(4), pages 637-43, October.
  10. Richard Blundell, 1992. "Labour supply and taxation: a survey," Fiscal Studies, Institute for Fiscal Studies, vol. 13(3), pages 15-40, January.
  11. Dixit, Avinash K & Sandmo, Angar, 1977. " Some Simplified Formulae for Optimal Income Taxation," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 79(4), pages 417-23.
  12. Sadka, Efraim, 1976. "On Income Distribution, Incentive Effects and Optimal Income Taxation," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 43(2), pages 261-67, June.
  13. Mirrlees, James A, 1971. "An Exploration in the Theory of Optimum Income Taxation," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 38(114), pages 175-208, April.
  14. Seade, J. K., 1977. "On the shape of optimal tax schedules," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 7(2), pages 203-235, April.
  15. Revesz, John T, 1989. "The Optimal Taxation of Labour Income," Public Finance = Finances publiques, , vol. 44(3), pages 453-75.
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