Tax Theory and Targeting: A Survey
In many countries, the targeting of income transfer schemes leads to a very high effective marginal tax rate on private income. How can the equity goals associated with targeting be made consistent with the maintenance of labour supply incentives? This paper reviews the inevitable trade-offs facing income-tested tax-transfer systems, and then goes on to examine the conclusions of a growing body of economic analysis of these questions. This analysis, growing out of the literature on ‘optimal income taxation' seeks to provide a framework for a balancing of the conflicting efficiency and equity issues involved in income-based redistribution. Though existing research is not able to provide firm guidelines to policy, there are valuable insights - particularly from research that has begun to incorporate the administrative features of programs. These have major implications for the structure of income testing. Insofar as activity testing increases labour supply, one might argue for the use of a higher benefit withdrawal rate - since this permits a lower tax rate at other points in the distribution without defeating equity objectives. At the same time, economic theory has yet to seriously analyse the diversity of social goals in this area. Different social evaluations of the value of ‘leisure’ may have important implications for policy. I do not doubt that some expert in modern economics would find it helpful to say that targeting should be pushed exactly to the point at which the marginal benefit from it exactly equals its marginal cost. Anyone who is enlightened by that wonderful formula fully deserves that enlightenment. (Sen, 1995: 22)
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- Peter Saunders & George Matheson, 1991. "An Ever-Rising Tide? Poverty in Australia in the Eighties," Discussion Papers 0030, University of New South Wales, Social Policy Research Centre.
- Gerry Redmond, 1999.
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- Peter Whiteford, 1992. "Are Immigrants Over-represented in the Australian Social Security System?," Discussion Papers 0031, University of New South Wales, Social Policy Research Centre.
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- Peter Saunders & Michael Fine, 1992. "The Mixed Economy of Support for the Aged in Australia: Lessons for Privatisation," Discussion Papers 0036, University of New South Wales, Social Policy Research Centre.
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- Peter Saunders & Garry Hobbes, 1988. "Income Inequality in Australia in an International Comparative Perspective," Australian Economic Review, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, vol. 21(3), pages 25-34.
- Peter Saunders & Bruce Bradbury, 1989. "Some Australian Evidence on the Consensual Approach to Poverty Measurement," Discussion Papers 0014, University of New South Wales, Social Policy Research Centre.
- Russell Ross, 1988. "The Labour Market Position of Aboriginal People in Non-Metropolitan New South Wales," Discussion Papers 001, University of New South Wales, Social Policy Research Centre.
- Peter Whiteford, 1995. "The Use of Replacement Rates in International Comparisons of Benefit Systems," Discussion Papers 0054, University of New South Wales, Social Policy Research Centre.
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