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Taxation of Interest Income

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  • Roger H. Gordon

Abstract

Why is interest income taxed more heavily than other forms of capital income? This differential tax treatment has generated substantial tax arbitrage, resulting in lower tax revenue, efficiency costs, and apparently net gains to rich borrowers and net losses to poor lenders, together suggesting that this tax treatment makes no sense on welfare grounds. In examining this argument more formally, this paper reveals two omitted considerations that can help explain the existing tax treatment. First, the forecasted increase in the market interest rate results in a redistribution from rich borrowers to poor lenders. Yet this redistribution comes at no marginal efficiency cost, starting from a situation with no distortions to portfolio choice, so at the margin dominates further redistribution through the income tax. In addition, information about an individual's portfolio choice reveals information about her earnings ability, even controlling for observed labor income, if those who are more able tend to be less risk averse. By making use of this extra information about earnings ability, the tax system can be better tailored to redistribute from able to less able, for any given efficiency cost.

Suggested Citation

  • Roger H. Gordon, 2003. "Taxation of Interest Income," NBER Working Papers 9503, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:9503
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. 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.
    2. Roger H. Gordon & Joel Slemrod, 1988. "Do We Collect Any Revenue from Taxing Capital Income?," NBER Chapters,in: Tax Policy and the Economy: Volume 2, pages 89-130 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. 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.
    4. 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.
    5. 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.
    6. Roger H. Gordon, 1985. "Taxation of Corporate Capital Income: Tax Revenues Versus Tax Distortions," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 100(1), pages 1-27.
    7. Gordon, Roger & Kalambokidis, Laura & Slemrod, Joel, 2004. "Do we now collect any revenue from taxing capital income?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 88(5), pages 981-1009, April.
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    Cited by:

    1. Gordon, Roger H. & Kopczuk, Wojciech, 2014. "The choice of the personal income tax base," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 118(C), pages 97-110.
    2. Frank Fossen & Martin Simmler, 2016. "Personal taxation of capital income and the financial leverage of firms," International Tax and Public Finance, Springer;International Institute of Public Finance, vol. 23(1), pages 48-81, February.
    3. David Hargreaves, 2008. "The tax system and housing demand in New Zealand," Reserve Bank of New Zealand Discussion Paper Series DP2008/06, Reserve Bank of New Zealand.
    4. Peter Diamond & Johannes Spinnewijn, 2011. "Capital Income Taxes with Heterogeneous Discount Rates," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 3(4), pages 52-76, November.
    5. Albanesi, Stefania, 2006. "Optimal Taxation of Entrepreneurial Capital with Private Information," CEPR Discussion Papers 5647, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • H21 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Efficiency; Optimal Taxation

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