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Empirical Optimal Income Taxation: A Microeconometric Application to Norway

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  • Rolf Aaberge

    ()

  • Ugo Colombino

    ()

Abstract

The purpose of this paper is to present an exercise where we identify optimal income tax rules according to various social welfare criteria, keeping fixed the total net tax revenue. Empirical applications of optimal taxation theory have typically adopted analytical expressions for the optimal taxes and then imputed numerical values to their parameters by using “calibration” procedures or previous econometric estimates. Besides the restrictiveness of the assumptions needed to obtain analytical solutions to the optimal taxation problem, a shortcoming of that procedure is the possible inconsistency between the theoretical assumptions and the assumptions implicit in the empirical evidence. In this paper we follow a different procedure, based on a computational approach to the optimal taxation problem. To this end, we estimate a microeconomic model with 78 parameters that capture heterogeneity in consumption-leisure preferences for singles and couples as well as in job opportunities across individuals based on detailed Norwegian household data for 1994. For any given tax rule, the estimated model can be used to simulate the labour supply choices made by single individuals and couples. Those choices are therefore generated by preferences and opportunities that vary across the decision units. We then identify optimal tax rules – within a class of 9-parameter piece-wise linear rules - by iteratively running the model until a given social welfare function attains its maximum under the constraint of keeping constant the total net tax revenue. The parameters to be determined are an exemption level, four marginal tax rates, three “kink points” and a lump sum transfer that can be positive (benefit) or negative (tax). We explore a variety of social welfare functions with differing degree of inequality aversion. All the social welfare functions imply monotonically increasing marginal tax rates. When compared with the current (1994) tax systems, the optimal rules imply a lower average tax rate. Moreover, all the optimal rules imply – with respect to the current rule – lower marginal rates on low and/or average income levels and higher marginal rates on relatively high income levels. These results are partially at odds with the tax reforms that took place in many countries during the last decades. While those reforms embodied the idea of lowering average tax rates, the way to implement it has typically consisted in reducing the top marginal rates. Our results instead suggest to lower average tax rates by reducing marginal rates on low and average income levels and increasing marginal rates on very high income levels.

Suggested Citation

  • Rolf Aaberge & Ugo Colombino, 2011. "Empirical Optimal Income Taxation: A Microeconometric Application to Norway," CHILD Working Papers wp16_11, CHILD - Centre for Household, Income, Labour and Demographic economics - ITALY.
  • Handle: RePEc:wpc:wplist:wp16_11
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Colombino Ugo & Narazani Edlira, 2013. "Designing a Universal Income Support Mechanism for Italy: An Exploratory Tour," Basic Income Studies, De Gruyter, vol. 8(1), pages 1-17, July.
    2. Ugo Colombino, 2011. "Five issues in the design of income support mechanisms. The case of Italy," CHILD Working Papers wp21_11, CHILD - Centre for Household, Income, Labour and Demographic economics - ITALY.
    3. Vanleenhove, Pieter, 2013. "Full childcare coverage: higher maternal labour supply and childcare usage?," EUROMOD Working Papers EM19/13, EUROMOD at the Institute for Social and Economic Research.
    4. André Decoster & Peter Haan, 2015. "Empirical welfare analysis with preference heterogeneity," International Tax and Public Finance, Springer;International Institute of Public Finance, vol. 22(2), pages 224-251, April.
    5. Olivier Bargain & André Decoster & Mathias Dolls & Dirk Neumann & Andreas Peichl & Sebastian Siegloch, 2013. "Welfare, labor supply and heterogeneous preferences: evidence for Europe and the US," Social Choice and Welfare, Springer;The Society for Social Choice and Welfare, vol. 41(4), pages 789-817, October.
    6. Colombino, Ugo, 2010. "Equilibrium Policy Simulations with Random Utility Models of Labour Supply," IZA Discussion Papers 5262, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    7. Colombino Ugo & Narazani Edlira, 2012. "What’s Best for Women: Gender Based Taxation, Wage Subsidies or Basic Income?"," Department of Economics and Statistics Cognetti de Martiis. Working Papers 201212, University of Turin.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Labour supply; optimal taxation; random utility model; microsimulation;

    JEL classification:

    • H21 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Efficiency; Optimal Taxation
    • H31 - Public Economics - - Fiscal Policies and Behavior of Economic Agents - - - Household
    • J22 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Time Allocation and Labor Supply

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