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Tax Eclecticism


Chris William Sanchirico


University of Pennsylvania Law School; University of Pennsylvania Wharton School - Business Economics and Public Policy Department

October 19, 2009

Tax Law Review, Vol. 64, No. 2, pp. 149-228, 2011
U of Penn, Inst for Law & Econ Research Paper No. 09-38
U of Penn Law School, Public Law Research Paper No. 09-29

Abstract:     
The dominant view in tax law and policy is that achieving the optimal balance of revenue, efficiency, and equity generally requires basing taxes and transfers solely on income from labor and not also on other potentially taxable attributes such as income from capital. The optimality of labor-earnings-only taxation is regarded as “the plain vanilla case” or the “natural model.” Circumstances in which a more eclectic tax base is warranted are described as “exotic” or as “theoretical curiosities.”

The primary objective of this article is to invert this conception of what is typical and what is peculiar. The goal is to convince the reader that - at least with regard to revenue, efficiency, and equity - tax eclecticism is the rule, and labor-earnings-only taxation, the exotic exception.

The second objective of the paper concerns the administrability of the tax and transfer system, inclusive of its simplicity. The article shows that the revenue-efficiency-equity benefits of adding a new attribute to the base will accrue to the very simplest modes of inclusion. Eclecticism does not necessitate exoticism; nor does it preclude a fair measure of minimalism.

A companion paper critiques the tax substitution argument for taxing only labor income (Sanchirico, Chris William, A Critical Look at the Economic Argument for Taxing Only Labor Income (March 4, 2009). Tax Law Review, Forthcoming; U of Penn, Inst for Law & Econ Research Paper No. 09-08. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1353322)

Number of Pages in PDF File: 80

Keywords: Tax policy, equity and efficiency, optimal taxation, tax substitution argument, consumption tax versus income tax, Atkinson and Stiglitz, taxes versus legal rules

JEL Classification: K34, D30, D31, D60, D61, D63, H00, H20, H21, J38, K00, K10

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Date posted: October 19, 2009 ; Last revised: May 25, 2011

Suggested Citation

Sanchirico, Chris William, Tax Eclecticism (October 19, 2009). Tax Law Review, Vol. 64, No. 2, pp. 149-228, 2011; U of Penn, Inst for Law & Econ Research Paper No. 09-38; U of Penn Law School, Public Law Research Paper No. 09-29. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1491130 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1491130

Contact Information

Chris William Sanchirico (Contact Author)
University of Pennsylvania Law School ( email )
3501 Sansom Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States
215-898-4220 (Phone)
HOME PAGE: http://www.law.upenn.edu/faculty/csanchir/
University of Pennsylvania Wharton School - Business Economics and Public Policy Department
3641 Locust Walk
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6372
United States
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