The Transformation of American International Power in the 1970s

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Similarly, although Musgrave discussed general principles of government spending, his classic text did not deal with the specific areas of government spending that would become the subject of much of public economics in the past three decades. Arnold Harberger's work on the incidence of the corporate income tax Harberger, demonstrated the power and importance of simple general equilibrium models. By extending models originally developed to study international trade issues, Harberger showed how elasticities of substitution in production and consumption, factor intensities in production, and consumer preferences all combined to determine the incidence of the corporate tax on labor and capital and on consumers with different preferences.

Gone were the earlier vague statements about backward shifting and forward shifting. Although the new general equilibrium models did not give unambiguous answers about corporate tax incidence, we learned the reason for the ambiguity and how various factors like capital mobility would affect incidence. In two further studies, Harberger , showed how the traditional welfare loss triangle could be extended to multiple taxes on different products and to evaluating the deadweight loss of the corporate income tax.


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Although multiproduct deadweight loss calculations had been developed earlier by Irving Fisher ,and John Hicks , it was Harberger who showed their direct application to excise taxes. Corlett and Hague made a seminal contribution to the theory of the efficient design of multiproduct excise taxes when some products are non-taxable or are taxed at an arbitrary rate. With these ideas well established, the growing mathematical literacy of the economics profession led to a rediscovery of the Frank Ramsey's theory of optimal excise taxes.

Diamond and Mirlees modernized Ramsey's analysis, showed the optimality of maintaining production efficiency, and derived the conditions that generalized the traditional inverse elasticity rules for optimal taxation.

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At about the same time, Mirlees also developed a formal model of the optimal labor income tax in which the optimal degree of progressivity depends on the government's distributional preferences and on the responsiveness of individuals to the tax schedule. The research provided a formal structure for guiding a benevolent government through the process in which the government optimizes the schedule of income tax rates knowing that the taxpayers will respond by maximizing their own utility subject to the schedule of tax rates.

Although the analysis failed to provide any significant general results, it clarified the nature of the optimization problem and provided a framework for deriving results in models with more explicit parametric restrictions. A further generalization of the original Diamond-Mirlees analysis dealt with designing the optimal combination of income and excise taxes. In the end, that research showed that the optimal tax rules depend on such unobservable properties of the utility function as the separability between leisure and the components of consumption as well as on the higher derivatives of utility as a function of income.

These theoretical developments led to other studies of tax incidence in general equilibrium models including the important early work on computable general equilibrium analysis by John Shoven and John Whalley , to extensions of the Diamond-Mirlees optimal tax analysis to include expenditure issues, to new work on the incidence of taxes on corporate source income by David Bradford, Mervyn King, and others, and to my own research on the efficiency effect of taxes on capital income.

These developments in the theory of public finance in the s and s were important in two ways. First, they clarified enormously the profession's thinking about a number of important public finance questions. Although they did not give unambiguous answers, they showed the errors of some earlier views and provided substantial analytic insights. Second, they attracted an outstanding generation of graduate students to the field of public economics.

Most of them did not go on to do theoretical research but the improved theoretical foundations in public finance and the new standard of theoretical rigor contributed to their empirical work. The development of empirical work in public economics has, more than anything else, distinguished the research of the past 30 years from all that had gone before.

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The late s and early s saw for the first time the availability of high speed computers, reliable econometric software, and large machine-readable data sets. These developments, plus the addition of sophisticated econometric techniques to the standard tool kit of graduate students, were all key to the empirical revolution in public economics.

The new data for public finance research included the first public availability of the Current Population Survey, the Federal Reserve's Survey of Consumer Finances, and the Internal Revenue Service public use sample of , tax returns that became the basic data input for what is now the NBER Taxsim model. For someone like me, recently trained in econometric methods, the newly available data provided an exciting opportunity to do a kind of empirical public finance that had not been done before and to confront some of the key questions of public finance in a new and serious empirical way.

An important early subject of empirical research was the study of the effects of taxes on labor supply, or, more accurately, on labor force participation and hours.

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These studies benefitted also from new econometric techniques for dealing with limited dependent variables and with self-selection bias in estimating behavior from a subset of the population. The results showed important effects of taxes on the participation and hours of women.

But the apparent lack of response by men was a warning that an accurate characterization of labor supply must be a much broader measure that includes things like effort, location, acquisition of human capital, and choice of occupation.


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More generally, what matters for evaluating the deadweight loss of the distortions induced by labor income taxes is not the change in labor supply alone even broadly defined but the change in the individual's taxable income, including the effect on the form of compensation i. Fortunately, unlike the impossibility of studying broadly defined labor supply, it is possible to estimate the effect of changes in marginal tax rates on taxable income using panels of tax data that include repeated observations on the same individuals or, under some conditions, using pooled cross sections of data.

Econometric tax research on the effect of interest income taxes on household saving is difficult because neither the tax return panels nor other panel files give adequate data on saving. Time series data on saving indicates that taxes that reduce the net return on saving do depress saving but these results are subject to a variety of estimation problems.

Much more solid evidence on the effects of tax policies on saving have been derived in studies of the effects of IRA and k plans. Although controversy continues, the evidence appears to support the conclusion that these saving incentives do significantly increase overall saving.

A series of legislative changes in the tax treatment of capital gains provided the basis for several studies of the effect of the capital gains tax rate on the selling of corporate stock and the realization of capital gains. Related studies analyzed how tax rates affect the way households allocate their wealth among different types of financial assets. Although results differ among the individual studies, the overall implication is that households do respond to differences in tax rates and to changes in tax rules. Closely related to these studies of the effect of taxes on financial investment are the studies of the effects of marginal tax rates on home ownership.

Because mortgage interest payments are deductible in calculating taxable income while the imputed value of housing services is not included in taxable income, individuals with high marginal tax rates have a strong incentive to own a home and to increase their investment in owner-occupied housing when tax rates rise.

Several econometric studies confirm that both inferences are correct, estimate the magnitude of the distortion, and calculate the resulting efficiency losses. Other empirical studies of the effects of taxation deal with such things as charitable giving and the demand for health insurance.

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There is, in short, no aspect of household tax-related behavior that has not been studied. But with new tax policies and improved data sets, there will be new opportunities in the future to improve and refine our empirical knowledge in a wide range of areas. In addition to these empirical studies, there have also been analytic studies of taxation that sharpened our understanding of the effect of taxes on risk taking by individuals, of how taxes affect the financial policy of corporations, and of the implications of analyzing tax issues in the context of a growing economy.

A second major aspect of the transformation of research in public finance since the s has been to broaden the subject to include government spending as well as taxation. This shift in focus was no doubt stimulated by the enormous expansion of government spending. In the United States, non-defense spending of the federal government rose from less than 10 percent of GDP in to more than 15 percent in , reflecting a wide array of new programs ranging from pre-school education to health care for the aged.

Economists responded to the challenge of studying these new programs. The field of public finance was thus transformed from the study of the taxes used to finance basic government services to the field of public economics that looked also at the effect of government spending on a wide range of programs. Much of the growth of government spending has been for social insurance programs and the research in public economics has matched that emphasis.

Social insurance programs were attractive research subjects not only because they are the largest part of government spending but also because they have many analytic similarities to taxation. The analyses of public spending programs study not only the extent to which they achieve their stated purposes but also the incidence and excess burden of each program.

The design of social insurance programs involves tradeoffs between protection and distortion that are analogous to the tradeoffs between distribution and efficiency considerations in taxation.

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The Social Security program of benefits to retirees, dependents and the disabled is the largest form of government spending. Empirical studies have shown that Social Security reduces saving and induces early retirement in the United States and other countries. Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF. Skip to main content. Advertisement Hide. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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