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Can Poverty-Reducing and Progressive Tax and Transfer System Hurt the Poor?

Listed author(s):
  • Sean Higgins

    ()

    (Department of Economics, Tulane University)

  • Nora Lustig

    ()

    (Stone Center for Latin American Studies, Department of Economics, Tulane University, Commitment to Equity Institute (CEQI).)

Whether the poor are helped or hurt by taxes and transfers is generally determined by comparing income distributions before and after fiscal policy using stochastic dominance tests and measures of progressivity and horizontal inequity. We formally show that these tools can fail to capture an important aspect: that a substantial proportion of the poor are made poorer (or non-poor made poor) by the tax and transfer system. We call this fiscal impoverishment, and axiomatically derive a measure of its extent. An analogous measure of fiscal gains of the poor is also derived, and we show that changes in the poverty gap can be decomposed into our axiomatic measures of fiscal impoverishment and gains. We also establish dominance criteria for unambiguous comparisons of fiscal impoverishment and gains under the current system to that under a proposed reform, for a range of possible poverty lines. We illustrate using Brazilian data.

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File URL: http://econ.tulane.edu/RePEc/ceq/ceq33.pdf
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Paper provided by Tulane University, Department of Economics in its series Commitment to Equity (CEQ) Working Paper Series with number 33.

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Length: 38 pages
Date of creation: Apr 2015
Publication status: Published in Commitment to Equity Institute, April 2015, pages 1-38
Handle: RePEc:tul:ceqwps:33
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