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Accounting for Family Background when Designing Optimal Income Taxes. A Microeconometric Simulation Analysis

The purpose of this paper is to introduce and adopt a generalised version of Roemer's (1998) Equality of Opportunity (EOp) framework, which we call extended EOp, for analysing second-best optimal income taxation. Unlike the pure EOp criterion of Roemer (1998) the extended EOp criterion allows for alternative weighting profiles in the treatment of income differentials between as well as within types when types are defined by circumstances that are beyond people's control. This study uses parental education as a measure of exogenous circumstances. An empirical microeconometric model of labour supply in Italy is employed to simulate and identify income tax-transfer rules that are optimal according to the extended EOp criterion. We look for second-best optimality, i.e. the tax-transfer rules are not allowed to depend on family background, they only depend on income: family background is taken indirectly into account. The rules are defined by a universal (not individualized) lump-sum transfer (positive or negative) and by one or two marginal tax rates. A rather striking result of the analysis is that the optimal tax-transfer rule turns out to be a universal lump-sum tax (with marginal tax rates equal to zero), under Roemer's pure EOp criterion as well as under the generalised EOp criterion with moderate degrees of aversion to within-type inequality. A higher degree of within-type inequality aversion instead produces EOp-optimal rules with positive marginal tax rates. When the EOp-version of the Gini welfare function is adopted, the optimal tax rule turns out to be close to the actual 1993 Italian tax system, if not for the important difference of prescribing a universal lump-sum positive transfer of 3,500,000 ITL (= 1807 Euros), which has no comparable counterpart in the actual system. On the other hand, when using the conventional equality of outcome (EO) criterion, the pure lump-sum tax always turns out to be optimal, at least with respect to the classes of two- and three-parameter rules. We also compute optimal rules under the additional constraint that universal lump-sum taxes are not feasible. Overall, the results do not conform to the perhaps common expectation that the EO criterion is more supportive of “interventionist” (redistributive) policies than an extended EOp approach.

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Paper provided by Statistics Norway, Research Department in its series Discussion Papers with number 619.

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Date of creation: May 2010
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Handle: RePEc:ssb:dispap:619
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  1. John Roemer, 2003. "To What Extent Do Fiscal Regimes Equalize Opportunities For Income Acquisition Among Citizens," Working Papers 03, University of California, Davis, Department of Economics.
  2. Ugo Colombino & Rolf Aaberge, 2006. "Designing Optimal Taxes with a Microeconometric Model of Household Labour Supply," CHILD Working Papers wp20_06, CHILD - Centre for Household, Income, Labour and Demographic economics - ITALY.
  3. François Bourguignon & Francisco H. G. Ferreira & Marta Menendez, 2003. "Inequality of outcomes and inequality of opportunities in Brazil," Textos para discussão 478, Department of Economics PUC-Rio (Brazil).
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  8. Vito Peragine, 2004. "Measuring and implementing equality of opportunity for income," Social Choice and Welfare, Springer, vol. 22(1), pages 187-210, 02.
  9. Hey, John D & Lambert, Peter J, 1980. "Relative Deprivation and the Gini Coefficient: Comment," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 95(3), pages 567-73, November.
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  11. Ermisch, John & Francesconi, Marco, 2001. "Family Matters: Impacts of Family Background on Educational Attainments," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 68(270), pages 137-56, May.
  12. Aaberge, Rolf, 2001. "Axiomatic Characterization of the Gini Coefficient and Lorenz Curve Orderings," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 101(1), pages 115-132, November.
  13. DONALDSON, David & WEYMARK, John A., . "Ethically flexible Gini indices for income distributions in the continuum," CORE Discussion Papers RP 520, Université catholique de Louvain, Center for Operations Research and Econometrics (CORE).
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  17. Donaldson, David & Weymark, John A., 1980. "A single-parameter generalization of the Gini indices of inequality," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 22(1), pages 67-86, February.
  18. Rolf Aaberge, 2000. "Characterizations of Lorenz curves and income distributions," Social Choice and Welfare, Springer, vol. 17(4), pages 639-653.
  19. Aaberge, Rolf & Colombino, Ugo & Strom, Steinar, 1999. "Labour Supply in Italy: An Empirical Analysis of Joint Household Decisions, with Taxes and Quantity Constraints," Journal of Applied Econometrics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 14(4), pages 403-22, July-Aug..
  20. Roemer, J.E., 1992. "A Pragmatic Theory of Responsibility for the Egalitarian Planner," Papers 391, California Davis - Institute of Governmental Affairs.
  21. Checchi, Daniele & Peragine, Vito, 2005. "Regional Disparities and Inequality of Opportunity: The Case of Italy," IZA Discussion Papers 1874, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  22. Rolf Aaberge, 2007. "Gini’s nuclear family," Journal of Economic Inequality, Springer, vol. 5(3), pages 305-322, December.
  23. Ugo Colombino & Steinar Strøm & Rolf Aaberge, 2000. "Labor supply responses and welfare effects from replacing current tax rules by a flat tax: Empirical evidence from Italy, Norway and Sweden," Journal of Population Economics, Springer, vol. 13(4), pages 595-621.
  24. Ebert, Udo, 1987. "Size and distribution of incomes as determinants of social welfare," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 41(1), pages 23-33, February.
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