Framing the Distributional Effects of the Bush Tax Cuts

Posted: 1 Oct 2004  

Lawrence Zelenak

Duke University School of Law


In this article he explains how the distributional analysis of the income tax cuts enacted during the Bush administration depends on one's choice of analytical framework. Under the framework preferred by the administration - which compares percentage reductions in income tax liabilities of taxpayers at different income levels - the tax cuts have been mildly progressive. If the focus is shifted, however, to the percentage increases in after-tax incomes attributable to the cuts, the cuts appear regressive. Even greater regressivity appears if the focus is on the distribution of raw dollars of tax cuts. Under the most comprehensive analysis of all - which considers the net effect of tax reductions and spending cuts necessitated by the tax reductions - recent legislation again appears to favor the rich at the expense of other taxpayers. After the discussion of analytical frameworks, the article considers some particular distributional aspects of recent tax legislation, relating to the alternative minimum tax, Social Security taxes, and the increasing inequality in the distribution of pretax income. It concludes with some speculation as to why the public has been so accepting of tax cuts skewed in favor of the rich.

Suggested Citation

Zelenak, Lawrence A., Framing the Distributional Effects of the Bush Tax Cuts. Tax Notes, Vol. 105, No. 1, October 4, 2004. Available at SSRN:

Lawrence A. Zelenak (Contact Author)

Duke University School of Law ( email )

210 Science Drive
Box 90362
Durham, NC 27708
United States

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