Taxing Utility

33 Pages Posted: 24 Feb 2005

See all articles by Terrence R. Chorvat

Terrence R. Chorvat

George Mason University - Antonin Scalia Law School, Faculty


In order to assess the efficiency of a tax, we should examine its effect on the behavior of individuals. In general, the less a tax affects behavior, the more efficient it is thought to be. The standard example of a non-distorting tax is a lump-sum tax, which does not change with the behavior of the taxpayer. However, this article demonstrates that behavioral distortions can and do arise from a change in even a lump-sum tax. The only truly non-distortionary tax would be one based on utility itself. Utility, which has been used as a norm for distributional analysis, is also the ideal base for efficiency analysis. In fact, any reasonable attempt to describe a minimally distortive basis of taxation will significantly resemble the notion of a tax on utility. Therefore, utility itself is the best basis for evaluation of the efficiency of a tax. Such a tax has many additional features which make it more useful for analytical purposes than lump sum taxes.

Keywords: taxation, efficiency, utility

JEL Classification: H20

Suggested Citation

Chorvat, Terrence R., Taxing Utility. Available at SSRN:

Terrence R. Chorvat (Contact Author)

George Mason University - Antonin Scalia Law School, Faculty ( email )

3301 Fairfax Drive
Arlington, VA 22201
United States
703-993-8208 (Phone)

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