June 2020

Taxation, Social Welfare, and Labor Market Frictions

Brendan Epstein, Ryan Nunn, Musa Orak, and Elena Patel


Taking inefficiencies from taxation as given, a well-known public finance literature shows that the elasticity of taxable income (ETI) is a sufficient statistic for assessing the deadweight loss (DWL) from taxing labor income in a static neoclassical framework. Using a theoretical approach, we revisit this result from the vantage point of a general equilibrium macroeconomic model with labor search frictions. We show that, in this context, and against the backdrop of inefficient taxation, DWL can be up to 38 percent higher than the ETI under a range of reasonable parametric assumptions. Externalities arising from market participants not taking into account the impact of changes in their search- and vacancy-posting activities on other market participants can amplify this divergence substantially. However, with theoretical precision, we show how the wedge between the ETI and DWL can be controlled for, using readily observable variables.

Keywords: Elasticity of taxable income, deadweight loss from taxation, endogenous amenities, search frictions, social welfare

DOI: https://doi.org/10.17016/IFDP.2020.1284

PDF: Full Paper

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Last Update: June 17, 2020