Consumer Law As Tax Alternative
Posted: 26 Dec 2017 Last revised: 28 Aug 2018
Date Written: December 19, 2017
Policymakers and scholars have in distributional conversations traditionally ignored consumer laws, defined as the set of consumer protection, antitrust, and entry barrier laws that govern consumer transactions. Tax law dominates distributional conversations partly because legal rules are seen as less efficient and partly because consumer law research speaks to narrow and siloed contexts — deceptive fees by Visa or a proposed merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable. Even millions of dollars in reduced credit card fees seem trivial compared to the trillion-dollar growth in income inequality that has sparked concern in recent decades. This Article is the first to synthesize the fragmented studies quantifying inefficiently higher consumer prices across diverse markets — called overcharge. These studies indicate that laws reducing overcharge could make a substantial reduction in inequality, possibly of a sufficiently large magnitude to remove much of the massive growth of inequality since 1980. Moreover, this massive redistribution would be driven by laws making markets more competitive, rather than tax increases that distort markets. If the empirical literature currently available is right, consumer law merits serious consideration as an alternative to tax.
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