Don Fullerton, Nirupama Rao, 03 May 2017

In the 2012 US presidential election, Mitt Romney famously asserted that 47% of the population were long-term dependents of the government – ‘takers’, not ‘givers’ to the system. This column examines this claim using long-spanning household-level data. Even though many households find themselves not paying tax or receiving public benefits in at least some years, only a small fraction consistently pay no tax or consistently receive public transfers.

Enrico Rubolino, Daniel Waldenström, 13 April 2017

The link between tax progressivity and the income distribution is the subject of intense debate. This column presents new evidence from tax reforms during the 1980s and 1990s to examine how reduced progressivity affects top income shares. Reduced progressivity boosted top incomes, particularly for those in the top 0.1% of earners. Income tax changes are therefore a plausible candidate for explaining the recent surge in income inequality.

Hans Holter, Dirk Krueger, Serhiy Stepanchuk, 20 February 2015

Since the Global Crisis, debt sustainability has received increasing attention. This column argues that the maximum sustainable debt level depends negatively on the progressivity of the tax system. The authors estimate that the US is still relatively far from the peak of its Laffer curve and from its maximally sustainable debt level. However, adopting a flat tax would raise the maximum sustainable debt from 330% to more than 350% of benchmark GDP, whereas adopting Danish-style progressivity would lower it to less than 250%.

Fabian Kindermann, Dirk Krueger, 15 November 2014

Optimal tax rates for the rich are a perennial source of controversy. This column argues that high marginal tax rates on the top 1% of earners can make society as a whole better off. Not knowing whether they would ever make it into the top 1%, but understanding it is very unlikely, households especially at younger ages would happily accept a life that is somewhat better most of the time and significantly worse in the rare event they rise to the top 1%.

Nezih Guner, Remzi Kaygusuz, Gustavo Ventura, 05 September 2012

Income tax is always a controversial issue in the US, particularly in election year. But how progressive is the US income tax system? This column looks at data on over 100,000 taxpayers from the Internal Revenue Service 2000 Public Use Tax File. It finds the question has more than one answer.

Charles Manski, 23 August 2012

Does a high income tax rate cause people to work less, work more, or continue unaffected? This is a question that divides politicians and the public. And, according to this column, it is also a question that economists do not know the answer to. It is time to say so.

Ricardo Fernholz, Robert Fernholz, 27 February 2012

What does the distribution of wealth look like in an economy in which all households have identical skills and patience, but there is no redistribution? This column argues that without some redistributive mechanism – either explicit in the form of government tax or fiscal policies, or implicit in the form of limited intergenerational transfers – the wealth in the economy tends to concentrate at the top.

Alberto Alesina, Andrea Ichino, 05 May 2007

Empirically, women’s labour supply elasticity is higher than men’s so basic principles of optimal taxation suggest that women’s income tax rates should be lower. Moreover, equal treatment in some areas (taxation) for those who are not treated equally in many other areas is hardly fair.