Taxes and Income Distribution in Chile: Some Unpleasant Redistributive Arithmetic

50 Pages Posted: 4 Feb 1999 Last revised: 11 Oct 2010

See all articles by Eduardo M. R. A. Engel

Eduardo M. R. A. Engel

Yale University - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Alexander Galetovic

Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez; Stanford University - The Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace; University of Padua - CRIEP

Claudio E. Raddatz

Central Bank of Chile; World Bank

Date Written: December 1998

Abstract

This paper quantifies the direct impact of taxes on income distribution at the household level in Chile and estimates the distributional effect of several changes in the tax structure. We find that income distributions before and after taxes are very similar (Gini coefficients of 0.448 and 0.496, respectively). Moreover, radical modifications of the tax structure, such as raising the value added tax from 18 to 25% or substituting a 20% flat tax for the present progressive income tax affect the after-tax distribution only slightly. We present some arithmetic showing that the scope for direct income redistribution through progressivity of the tax system is rather limited. By contrast, for parameter values observed in Chile, and possibly in most developing countries, the targeting of expenditures and the level of the average tax rate are far more important determinants of income distribution after government transfers. Thus, a high-yield proportional tax can have a far bigger equalizing impact than a low-yield progressive tax. Moreover, a simple model shows that the optimal tax system is biased against progressive taxes and towards proportional taxes, with a bias that grows with the degree of inequality of pre-tax incomes.

Suggested Citation

Engel, Eduardo M. and Galetovic, Alexander and Raddatz, Claudio E., Taxes and Income Distribution in Chile: Some Unpleasant Redistributive Arithmetic (December 1998). NBER Working Paper No. w6828. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=141491

Eduardo M. Engel (Contact Author)

Yale University - Department of Economics ( email )

28 Hillhouse Ave
New Haven, CT 06520-8268
United States
203-432-5595 (Phone)
203-432-5779 (Fax)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Alexander Galetovic

Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez ( email )

Peñalolén
Santiago
Chile

Stanford University - The Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305-6010
United States

University of Padua - CRIEP ( email )

Padua
Italy

Claudio E. Raddatz

Central Bank of Chile ( email )

United States

World Bank ( email )

1818 H Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20433
United States

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