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Voting over selfishly optimal tax schedules: Can Pigouvian tax redistribute income?

Darong Dai ()

Journal of Public Economic Theory, 2020, vol. 22, issue 5, 1660-1686

Abstract: This paper studies pairwise majority voting over selfishly optimal nonlinear income tax schedules proposed by a continuum of individuals who differ in privately observable skills and make consumption comparisons, which creates a negative positional externality. It shows that the tax schedule preferred by the median skill type will win the voting contest. Given a reference consumption defined as the average consumption in the population, all skills face the same Pigouvian tax rate in the utilitarian optimum, whereas in selfish optima high skills face a Pigouvian tax rate larger than that facing low skills, generating a novel income redistributive effect. Under a constant elasticity of labor supply, two more results are obtained. First, for Pareto, Champernowne, Weibull, and lognormal skill distributions, the selfishly optimal tax schedule facing high (low) skills tends to be more progressive when the bottom‐skill's (top‐skill's) status concern intensifies. Second, it identifies the conditions under which, in the voting equilibrium, high skills face higher marginal tax rates while low skills face lower ones than what they face in the utilitarian optimum.

Date: 2020
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