Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Labor Supply and Taxes

I have a post at The Agenda on the impact of taxes on labor supply:

While many recent discussions of tax policy are motivated by using taxation for the purposes of economic stimulus or for addressing income inequality, the really important long-term impacts of taxation center on labor supply. Higher taxes induce people to cut back on hours worked (what economists refer to as the intensive margin), as well as to drop out of the workforce entirely (the extensive margin). Figuring out how much taxes induce household labor behavior along these dimensions has been a major area of economic research, and the implications for government policy are sizable... 
Broadly, macroeconomists like Ed Prescott, studying the behavior of economies in the aggregate, tend to prefer large labor supply estimates; while microeconomists like Saez and Diamond, studying groups of individuals, tend to support smaller estimates. This empirical dispute has fairly far-reaching consequences on the structure of government policy. If Diamond and Saez are right, then even large hikes in taxation, though they may affect after-tax income, will not impact labor supply or GDP. If Prescott are company are right, then hikes to marginal tax rates will hit labor supply, and through that GDP, and so damage a key source of competitive advantage for the US economy... 
In the midst of continuing economic woes, there is little appetite to raise taxes on anything but a tiny fraction of Americans. Yet, eventually, politicians will face difficult fiscal choices. Raising taxes may avoid difficult cuts to social spending programs; yet there is a sizable body of research that suggests higher taxes may have long-run consequences on the long-run success of the economy — which will in turn make it more difficult to balance Debt/GDP. This may still be a choice worth making. Yet it is important to keep in mind the tradeoffs that higher taxes imply. At the very least, it’s a reason to pursue tax reform that lowered marginal tax rates by broadening the tax base, which would improve economic efficiency with few economic costs.

No comments: