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What Happens When You Tax the Rich? Evidence from Executive Compensation


Austan Goolsbee


University of Chicago - Booth School of Business; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

December 1997

NBER Working Paper No. w6333

Abstract:     
This paper reexamines the responsiveness of taxable income to changes in in marginal tax rates using detailed compensation data on several thousand corporate executives from 1991 to 1995. The data confirm that the higher marginal rates of 1993 led to a significant decline in taxable income. This small group of executives can account for as much as 20% of the aggregate change in wage and salary income for the 1 million richest taxpayers and one person alone can account for over 2%. But the decline is almost entirely a short-run shift in the timing of compensation rather than a permanent reduction in taxable income. The short-run elasticitiy of taxable income with respect to the net of tax share exceeds one but the elasticity after one year is at most 0.4 and probably close to 0. The response comes almost entirely from a large increase in the exercise of stock options in the year before the tax change, followed by a decline in the year of the tax change and the change is concentrated among executives at the top of the income distribution. Executives without stock options are 6 times less responsive to taxation. Other types of compensation such as salary and bonus or nontaxed income are either not responsive to tax rates or not large enough to make a difference. The estimated elasticities show that the dead weight loss of recent tax increases was around 15 25 percent of the revenue generated.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 37

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Date posted: June 10, 2000  

Suggested Citation

Goolsbee, Austan, What Happens When You Tax the Rich? Evidence from Executive Compensation (December 1997). NBER Working Paper No. w6333. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=226087

Contact Information

Austan Goolsbee (Contact Author)
University of Chicago - Booth School of Business ( email )
5807 S. Woodlawn Avenue
Chicago, IL 60637
United States
773-702-5869 (Phone)
773-702-0458 (Fax)
National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)
1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
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