Cash welfare programmes are widely thought to discourage work because unearned income reduces the labour supply even when it does not alter work incentives. This column discusses recent evidence from Swedish lottery players suggesting that this ‘income effect’ is economically significant, but modest in magnitude and surprisingly similar across various demographic groups. Introducing ‘unconditional basic income’ programmes in developed countries may reduce the labour supply across a broad cross-section of the population.
David Cesarini, Erik Lindqvist, Matthew Notowidigdo, Robert Östling, 24 January 2016
Joshua Aizenman, Yothin Jinjarak, Jungsuk Kim, Donghyun Park, 08 January 2016
Taxation in developing nations has always been difficult, but the Global Crisis has brought further complications. This column examines and compares the tax revenue trends in Asia and Latin America to shed light on some of these issues. Despite their similarities, there is no one-size-fits-all explanation for tax/GDP ratios between the two regions. While progress has been made, the gap between the advanced economies and developing countries offers ample room for improvement. This is particularly important for developing nations as they face growing demand for fiscal spending.
Pablo Fajgelbaum, Eduardo Morales, Juan Carlos Suarez, Owen Zidar, 06 January 2016
Tax policy varies widely across countries and across regions within countries. This column presents evidence suggesting that in the case of the US, harmonising tax rates could lead to significant increases in aggregate economic output. EU policymakers should take note.
Dominika Langenmayr, 13 November 2015
Voluntary disclosure programmes offer tax evaders the opportunity to come clean with reduced penalties. This column uses data from the US and Germany to examine the merits of such programmes. They are found to increase tax evasion, but also to significantly lower administrative costs, leading to a net increase in tax revenues.
Aspen Gorry, Kevin Hassett, Glenn Hubbard, Aparna Mathur, 19 October 2015
As the tabloid press and broadsheet newspapers often report, executive compensation has grown dramatically since the 1980s and continues to rise in most financial centres. This column looks at how compensating executives has changed in recent years, and suggests ways that governments can collect revenue more effectively in response.
Sebastian Galiani, Camila Navajas Ahumada, Marcela Meléndez, 10 August 2015
Informality is widespread in most developing countries. A challenge for governments is to lure informal firms into the formal economy. This column presents evidence from an experiment designed to induce formalisation in Colombia. Assistance through the bureaucratic process and the removal of the fixed costs of formalising increased the likelihood of formalisation. However, this effect did not persist over time, with many firms returning to the informal sector when minimal fixed costs came back into effect.
Ufuk Akcigit, Salome Baslandze, Stefanie Stantcheva, 27 April 2015
Taxing high earners is an issue of growing importance in many nations. One concern is that raising rates will lead high earners to move elsewhere. This column suggests that top-tier inventors are significantly affected by top tax rates when deciding where to live. The loss of these highly skilled agents could entail significant economic costs in terms of lost tax revenues and less overall innovation.
Ricardo Perez-Truglia, Ugo Troiano, 20 March 2015
Although most of the tax compliance literature focuses on tax evasion, a significant portion of the tax gap includes tax delinquencies. This column discusses new research about the enforcement of tax debts, including evidence from a field experiment in the US with nearly 35,000 tax delinquents who collectively owe half a billion dollars in taxes. In addition to financial penalties, this research studies the effectiveness of a common ‘shaming’ penalty in which the names, addresses, and other identifying information of individuals and businesses with delinquent taxes are published online.
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%.
Tim Besley, Anders Jensen, Torsten Persson, 12 February 2015
The Eurozone sovereign debt crisis has highlighted the problem of tax evasion. This column examines the effect of social norms on tax compliance using the UK poll tax as a natural experiment. Comparing councils where tax evasion spiked more during the poll-tax period to those where it spiked less, there was no systematic difference before the poll-tax period. However, once the poll tax was abolished, tax evasion remained higher in the former group, suggesting that high poll-tax non-compliance created a persistent norm of non-compliance.
Kirill Shakhnov, 17 January 2015
The rapid growth of the US financial sector has driven policy debate on whether it is socially desirable. This column examines the trade-off between finance and entrepreneurship, and links the growth of finance to rising wealth inequality. Although financial intermediation helps allocate capital efficiently, people choosing a career in finance do not internalise the negative effect on the pool of talented entrepreneurs. This mechanism can explain the simultaneous growth of wealth inequality and finance in the US, and why more unequal countries have larger financial sectors.
Ronald B. Davies, Julien Martin, Mathieu Parenti, Farid Toubal, 05 January 2015
Allegations of tax-avoiding transfer pricing by multinational firms are common, but economic evidence is scarce. This column discusses detailed price data for intra-firm and arm’s length transactions that reveals tax-driven transfer pricing, and suggests that it may be reduced by focusing on a small number of large firms in a small number of tax havens.
Nezih Guner, Martin Lopez-Daneri, Gustavo Ventura, 05 October 2014
Recent calls for closing fiscal deficits have been combined with proposals to shift the tax burden and increase marginal tax rates on higher earners. This column argues that revenue-maximising tax rates for high earners in the US would be substantially higher than current rates. However, increasing tax rates for high earners would not raise much additional revenue.
Ruud de Mooij, Michael Keen, Victoria Perry, 14 September 2014
Multinational companies’ ability to pay little corporate income tax has grabbed headlines recently. This column argues that the details of international tax rules matter for macroeconomic performance – especially in low-income countries. This emphasises the importance of the G20–OECD Action Plan on Base Erosion and Profit Shifting. However, dealing properly with tax spillovers will require a deeper global debate about the international tax architecture itself.
Cait Lamberton, Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, Michael I. Norton, 30 May 2014
Non-compliance with tax costs governments billions, in part because people really don't like paying taxes. This column reports two experiments designed to see if it's possible to make people hate taxes a little less and raise tax compliance. The results indicate that if people are given the opportunity to express a preference (though not actually make the final decisions) on how their taxes are spent, they are much less likely to cheat. Simply by making the tax form more interactive, governments could increase tax compliance, while empowering citizens and improving their attitudes towards taxation.
Laurence J. Kotlikoff, 14 January 2014
Though taxing corporations may be a political no-brainer, it may be a big economic mistake. This column discusses recent research showing that the tax is not paid primarily by rich corporate shareholders. They can, and do, move their capital away from countries that have high corporate rates. Eliminating the US corporate tax by, for example, taxing accrued global corporate profits as personal income can produce dramatic increases in US investment, output, real wages, and saving. Modest gains accrue to early generations with very sizable gains going to young and future generations, both skilled and unskilled.
Michael Keen, 16 October 2013
Fiscal consolidation, and public concern that its pain be fairly spread, is putting tax systems under considerable pressure. This column takes stock of how they have been faring, and how they could do better.
Charles F Manski, 18 August 2013
Economists usually think of taxation as inefficient. This column argues that the anti-tax rhetoric evident in much lay discussion of public policy draws considerable support from the prevalent negative language of professional economic discourse. Optimal income taxation doesn’t have to employ the pejorative concepts of inefficiency, deadweight loss and distortion; and this column argues that it is high time for economists to discard them and make analysis of taxation and public spending distortion-free.
Balázs Égert, 10 May 2013
France has recorded one of the lowest real per capita income growth levels in the OECD over the last 20 years or so. One of the many structural weaknesses causing this weak performance is the French tax system. This column argues that complexity, instability and non-neutrality coupled with very high effective tax rates in many areas of the French tax system put a heavy burden on the economy.
José M. González-Páramo, Ángel Melguizo, 06 February 2013
In spite of its policy relevance, academics and policymakers cannot agree on who bears the brunt of a tax on labour. This column uses meta-regression techniques to argue that economic institutions, the tax wedge definition, and the time horizon are crucial in determining who actually pays. Results based on 52 empirical papers suggest that in the long run, workers bear between two thirds of the tax burden in Continental and Anglo-Saxon economies, and nearly 90% in Nordic ones.