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The Elasticity of Taxable Income: Estimates and Flat Tax Predictions using the Hungarian Tax Changes in 2005


  • Péter Bakos
  • Péter Benczúr
  • Dora Benedek


Many Central and Eastern European countries are adopting flat tax schemes in order to boost their economies and tax revenues. Though there are signs that some countries do manage to improve on both fronts, it is in general hard to distinguish the behavioral response to tax changes from the effect of increased tax enforcement. This paper addresses this gap by estimating the elasticity of taxable income in Hungary, one of the outliers in terms of not having a flat tax scheme. We analyze taxpayer behavior using a medium-scale tax reform episode in 2005, which changed marginal and average tax rates but kept enforcement constant. We employ a Tax and Financial Control Office (APEH) panel dataset between 2004 and 2005 with roughly 215,000 taxpayers. Our results suggest a relatively small but highly significant tax price elasticity of about 0.06 for the population earning above the minimum wage (around 70% of all taxpayers). This number increases to around 0.3 when we focus on the upper 20% of the income distribution, with some income groups exhibiting even higher elasticities (0.45). We first demonstrate that such an elasticity substantially modifies the response of government revenues to the 2004-2005 tax changes, and then quantify the impact of a hypothetical flat income tax scheme. Our calculations indicate that though there is room for a parallel improvement of budget revenues and after-tax income, those gains are modest (2% and 1.4%, respectively). Moreover, such a reform involves important adverse changes in income inequality, and its burden falls mostly on lower-middle income taxpayers.

Suggested Citation

  • Péter Bakos & Péter Benczúr & Dora Benedek, 2008. "The Elasticity of Taxable Income: Estimates and Flat Tax Predictions using the Hungarian Tax Changes in 2005," RSCAS Working Papers 2008/32, European University Institute.
  • Handle: RePEc:rsc:rsceui:2008/32

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Dani Rodrik, 2008. "Goodbye Washington Consensus, Hello Washington Confusion? A Review of the World Banks Economic Growth in the 1990s: Learning from a Decade of Reform," Panoeconomicus, Savez ekonomista Vojvodine, Novi Sad, Serbia, vol. 55(2), pages 135-156, June.
    2. Oecd, 2009. "Concepts and dilemmas of State building in fragile situations: From fragility to resilience," OECD Journal on Development, OECD Publishing, vol. 9(3), pages 61-148.
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    Cited by:

    1. Áron Kiss & Pálma Mosberger, 2015. "The elasticity of taxable income of high earners: evidence from Hungary," Empirical Economics, Springer, vol. 48(2), pages 883-908, March.
    2. Andras Simonovits, 2010. "Tax Morality and Progressive Wage Tax," IEHAS Discussion Papers 1005, Institute of Economics, Centre for Economic and Regional Studies, Hungarian Academy of Sciences.
    3. Arrazola, María & de Hevia, José & Romero, Desiderio & Sanz-Sanz, José Félix, 2014. "Personal Income Tax Reforms and the Elasticity of Reported Income to Marginal Tax Rates: An Empirical Analysis Applied to Spain," Working Paper Series 3593, Victoria University of Wellington, Chair in Public Finance.
    4. Andras Simonovits, 2009. "Underreported earnings and age-specific income redistribution in post-socialist economies," IEHAS Discussion Papers 0927, Institute of Economics, Centre for Economic and Regional Studies, Hungarian Academy of Sciences.
    5. Gábor Kátay & Péter Benczúr & Áron Kiss & Olivér M. Rácz, 2014. "Income Taxation, Transfers and Labour Supply at the Extensive Margin," EcoMod2014 6925, EcoMod.
    6. Tomasz Jedrzejowicz & Gabor Kiss & Jana Jirsakova, 2009. "How to measure tax burden in an internationally comparable way?," NBP Working Papers 56, Narodowy Bank Polski, Economic Research Department.

    More about this item


    elasticity of taxable income; tax reform; behavioral response; revenue estimation; flat tax;

    JEL classification:

    • H24 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Personal Income and Other Nonbusiness Taxes and Subsidies
    • H31 - Public Economics - - Fiscal Policies and Behavior of Economic Agents - - - Household

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