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Direct or Indirect Tax Instruments for Redistribution: Short-run versus Long-run

  • Emmanuel Saez

Optimal tax theory has shown that, under weak assumptions, indirect taxation such as production subsidies, tariffs, or differentiated commodity taxation, are sub-optimal and that redistribution should be achieved solely with the direct income tax. However, these important results of optimal tax theory, namely production efficiency and uniform commodity taxation under non-linear income taxation, have been shown to break down when labor taxation is based on income only and when there is imperfect substitution of labor types in the production function. These results in favor of indirect tax instruments are valid in the short-run when skills are exogenous and individuals cannot move from occupation to occupation. In the long-run, it is more realistic to assume that individuals choose their occupation based on the relative after-tax rewards. This paper shows that, in that context, production efficiency and the uniform commodity tax result are restored. Therefore, in a long-run context, direct income taxation should be preferred to indirect tax instruments to raise revenue and achieve redistribution.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 8833.

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Date of creation: Mar 2002
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Publication status: published as Saez, Emmanuel. "Direct Or Indirect Tax Instruments For Redistribution: Short-Run Versus Long-Run," Journal of Public Economics, 2004, v88(3-4,Mar), 507-518.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:8833
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  1. Dixit, Avinash & Norman, Victor, 1986. "Gains from trade without lump-sum compensation," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 21(1-2), pages 111-122, August.
  2. Christiansen, Vidar, 1984. "Which commodity taxes should supplement the income tax?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 24(2), pages 195-220, July.
  3. Saez, Emmanuel, 2001. "Using Elasticities to Derive Optimal Income Tax Rates," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 68(1), pages 205-29, January.
  4. Richard Blundell & Thomas MaCurdy, 1998. "Labour supply: a review of alternative approaches," IFS Working Papers W98/18, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
  5. Martin Feldstein, 1993. "The Effect of Marginal Tax Rates on Taxable Income: A Panel Study of the1986 Tax Reform Act," NBER Working Papers 4496, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Roger Guesnerie, 1998. "Peut-on toujours redistribuer les gains à la spécialisation et à l'échange ? Un retour en pointillé sur Ricardo et Heckscher-Ohlin," Revue économique, Presses de Sciences-Po, vol. 0(3), pages 555-579.
  7. Feldstein, Martin, 1995. "Effect of Marginal Tax Rates on Taxable Income: A Panel Study of the 1986 Tax Reform Act," Scholarly Articles 2766676, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  8. Emmanuel Saez, 2002. "Optimal Income Transfer Programs: Intensive Versus Extensive Labor Supply Responses," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 117(3), pages 1039-1073, August.
  9. Naito, H., 1996. "Tariffs and Production Subsidies as Devices to Relax the Incentive Problem of a Progressive Income Tax System," Working Papers 391, Research Seminar in International Economics, University of Michigan.
  10. Saez, Emmanuel, 2002. "The desirability of commodity taxation under non-linear income taxation and heterogeneous tastes," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 83(2), pages 217-230, February.
  11. Atkinson, A. B. & Stiglitz, J. E., 1976. "The design of tax structure: Direct versus indirect taxation," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 6(1-2), pages 55-75.
  12. Stiglitz, Joseph E., 1982. "Self-selection and Pareto efficient taxation," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 17(2), pages 213-240, March.
  13. Diamond, Peter A & Mirrlees, James A, 1971. "Optimal Taxation and Public Production II: Tax Rules," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 61(3), pages 261-78, June.
  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. Peter A. Diamond, 1982. "Protection, Trade Adjustment Assistance, and Income Distribution," NBER Chapters, in: Import Competition and Response, pages 123-150 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  16. David Spector, 1999. "Is it Possible to Redistribute the Gains from Trade Using Income Taxation?," Working papers 99-13, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
  17. Jon Gruber & Emmanuel Saez, 2000. "The Elasticity of Taxable Income: Evidence and Implications," NBER Working Papers 7512, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  18. Naito, Hisahiro, 1999. "Re-examination of uniform commodity taxes under a non-linear income tax system and its implication for production efficiency," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 71(2), pages 165-188, February.
  19. Bruce D. Meyer & Dan T. Rosenbaum, 1999. "Welfare, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and the Labor Supply of Single Mothers," NBER Working Papers 7363, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  20. Thomas Piketty, 1997. "La redistribution fiscale face au chômage," Revue Française d'Économie, Programme National Persée, vol. 12(1), pages 157-201.
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