The Behavioral Elasticity of Tax Revenue
Journal of Legal Analysis (forthcoming)
71 Pages Posted: 14 Oct 2019 Last revised: 30 Jan 2021
Date Written: October 1, 2019
This article presents a refined measure of the efficiency consequences of tax policies and explains how this measure sheds light on a wide range of tax law debates. We build upon the “elasticity of taxable income” approach pioneered by public finance scholars over the last quarter century and a number of extensions of that approach developed in recent years. The resulting measure—the behavioral elasticity of tax revenue, or BETR—captures the change in real resources available to society caused by any marginal change in tax rates, the tax base, or tax enforcement. We illustrate the BETR’s utility by applying it to questions such as the proper treatment of mixed personal/business expenses and the optimal mix of audits, reporting requirements, and penalties. We also consider the relationship between the BETR and the distributional aims of tax law. While the BETR is a measure of efficiency and not distribution, the BETR can aid policymakers in deciding both how much to redistribute and how to accomplish distributional objectives most efficiently. We end with reflections on the implications of the BETR for the design of non-tax legal rules.
Keywords: tax law, tax policy, elasticity of taxable income, behavioral elasticity of tax revenue, optimal taxation
JEL Classification: K34, H20, H21, H24, H25, H26
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation