October 24, 2011

AT THE MARGINS:

The Tax Reform Evidence From 1986: Experience implies that the combination of base broadening and rate reduction would raise revenue equal to about 4% of existing tax revenue. (MARTIN FELDSTEIN, 10/24/11, WSJ)

Taxpayers who faced a marginal tax rate of 50% in 1985 had a marginal tax rate of just 28% after 1986, implying that their marginal net-of-tax share rose to 72% from 50%, an increase of 44%. For this group, the average taxable income rose between 1985 and 1988 by 45%, suggesting that each 1% rise in the marginal net-of-tax rate led to about a 1% rise in taxable income.

This dramatic increase in taxable income reflected three favorable effects of the lower marginal tax rates. The greater net reward for extra effort and extra risk-taking led to increases in earnings, in entrepreneurial activity, in the expansion of small businesses, etc. Lower marginal tax rates also caused individuals to shift some of their compensation from untaxed fringe benefits and other perquisites to taxable earnings. Taxpayers also reduced spending on tax-deductible forms of consumption.

A similar picture emerged for the group of taxpayers who faced slightly lower marginal tax rates of 42% and 45%. The reduction to 28% raised the marginal net-of-tax share of this group by 25% and their taxable incomes rose by 20%, suggesting that each 1% rise in the marginal net-of-tax share raised taxable incomes by 0.8%, quite similar to the estimate for the group with the highest marginal tax rate.

The substantial sensitivity of taxable income to the taxpayer's marginal net-of-tax share has important implications for the effect of tax-rate reductions on total tax revenue. For a 10% across-the-board reduction in all tax rates, a traditional "static" analysis implies that revenue would fall to 90% of its previous level. But reducing a current 40% marginal tax rate by 10% to 36% raises the net-of-tax share to 64% from 60%, a rise of 6.7%. If that causes the taxable income of those at that tax level to rise by 6.7%, their taxable income would fall to only 96% of what it had been. In short, the behavioral response of taxpayers in this highest bracket would offset 60% of the static revenue loss.

Posted by at October 24, 2011 6:49 AM
  

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