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Distortion Costs of Taxing Wealth Accumulation: Income Versus Estate Taxes


  • Douglas Holtz-Eakin
  • Donald Marples


Recently, attention has focused on the estate tax. To date, however, the debate over estate taxes has been nearly devoid of standard considerations of deadweight loss. We develop a framework for computing the deadweight loss of a revenue-neutral switch from an estate tax to a capital income tax, focusing on the potential lifetime behavioral responses in anticipation of paying the estate tax, while requiring relatively few parameters to estimate. We conclude that eliminating the estate tax and replacing the revenue with that from a capital income tax will likely enhance economic efficiency. Specifically, using our baseline parameter estimates we estimate that the mean decrease in deadweight loss is $0.018 per dollar of wealth. There is, however, considerable heterogeneity in the estimated impact. Importantly, our estimates are based on data that do not contain the 'super-rich' who are most highly affected by the estate tax.

Suggested Citation

  • Douglas Holtz-Eakin & Donald Marples, 2001. "Distortion Costs of Taxing Wealth Accumulation: Income Versus Estate Taxes," NBER Working Papers 8261, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:8261
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Kopczuk, Wojciech & Saez, Emmanuel, 2004. "Top Wealth Shares in the United States, 1916-2000: Evidence From Estate Tax Returns," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 57(2), pages 445-487, June.
    2. Bellettini, Giorgio & Taddei, Filippo & Zanella, Giulio, 2017. "Intergenerational altruism and house prices: Evidence from bequest tax reforms in Italy," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 92(C), pages 1-12.
    3. Grossmann, Volker & Strulik, Holger, 2010. "Should continued family firms face lower taxes than other estates?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 94(1-2), pages 87-101, February.
    4. Kopczuk, Wojciech, 2016. "U.S. capital gains and estate taxation: a status report and directions for a reform," CEPR Discussion Papers 11208, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    5. Henriette Houben & Ralf Maiterth, 2011. "Erbschaftsteuer und Erbschaftsteuerreform in Deutschland: eine Bestandsaufnahme," Vierteljahrshefte zur Wirtschaftsforschung / Quarterly Journal of Economic Research, DIW Berlin, German Institute for Economic Research, vol. 80(4), pages 161-188.
    6. Bernheim, B. Douglas & Lemke, Robert J. & Scholz, John Karl, 2004. "Do estate and gift taxes affect the timing of private transfers?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 88(12), pages 2617-2634, December.
    7. Jappelli, T. & Padula, M. & Pica, G., 2011. "GINI DP 21: Transfer Taxes and Inequality," GINI Discussion Papers 21, AIAS, Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Labour Studies.
    8. Jappelli, Tullio & Padula, Mario & Pica, Giovanni, 2010. "Estate Taxation and Intergenerational Transfers," CEPR Discussion Papers 7701, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    9. Glogowsky, Ulrich, 2016. "Behavioral Responses to Wealth Transfer Taxation: Bunching Evidence from Germany," Annual Conference 2016 (Augsburg): Demographic Change 145922, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.
    10. Presbitero, Andrea F. & Sacchi, Agnese & Zazzaro, Alberto, 2014. "Property tax and fiscal discipline in OECD countries," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 124(3), pages 428-433.
    11. Wojciech Kopczuk, 2010. "Economics of estate taxation: a brief review of theory and evidence," NBER Working Papers 15741, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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    JEL classification:

    • H2 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue

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