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Taxation and the Allocation of Talent


  • Eric Weyl

    (University of Chicago)

  • Charles Nathanson

    (Harvard University)

  • Ben Lockwood

    (Harvard University)


Taxation affects the allocation of talented individuals across industries by blunting material incentives and thus relatively magnifying the non-pecuniary benefits of pursuing a "calling". If higher-paying industries (e.g. finance and management) generate less positive net externalities than lower-paying professions (e.g. public service and education) this may enhance efficiency. We develop a theory of income taxation as implicit Pigouvian taxation of these externalities and calibrate it using data on the distribution of income and talent across industries. Even without any redistributive motive, tax rates are highly sensitive to the externalities assumed within a spectrum many would consider reasonable: they range from extremely regressive to highly progressive at high incomes. Our theory thus offers an alternative, pure efficiency rationale for non-linear income taxation, challenging the connection between high long-run labor supply elasticities and low optimal tax rates and motivating further study of the externalities generated by professions.

Suggested Citation

  • Eric Weyl & Charles Nathanson & Ben Lockwood, 2013. "Taxation and the Allocation of Talent," 2013 Meeting Papers 56, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  • Handle: RePEc:red:sed013:56

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Casey Rothschild & Florian Scheuer, 2016. "Optimal Taxation with Rent-Seeking," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 83(3), pages 1225-1262.
    2. Kevin M. Murphy & Andrei Shleifer & Robert W. Vishny, 1991. "The Allocation of Talent: Implications for Growth," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 106(2), pages 503-530.
    3. Hirshleifer, Jack, 1971. "The Private and Social Value of Information and the Reward to Inventive Activity," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 61(4), pages 561-574, September.
    4. Michael Keane & Richard Rogerson, 2012. "Micro and Macro Labor Supply Elasticities: A Reassessment of Conventional Wisdom," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 50(2), pages 464-476, June.
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