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Possibility, Impossibility, and History in the Origins of the Marriage Tax

Marcus Berliant () and Paul Rothstein ()

National Tax Journal, 2003, vol. 56, issue 2, 303-17

Abstract: We examine the marriage tax in a formal setting. We begin with precise statements of the basic normative principles in the literature and proofs of old and new impossibility claims. Along the way we document and resolve important ambiguities in the existing literature. We then characterize the tax systems that are piecewise linear, linear, and proportional in terms of familiar normative principles and a new principle we call local marriage neutrality. Earlier analytical work emphasizes that all tax structures must violate certain principles. Local marriage neutrality permits a more nuanced analysis of the conflicts among tax principles that is more relevant to the study of moderate tax reform. We use these results to give a brief yet comprehensive analysis of the properties of the income tax system at key points in time. The last section uses the same results to offer observations about recently proposed and enacted changes for reducing the marriage tax.

Date: 2003
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