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By Roos C.F.

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Through the years our perspective on whether a consumption tax would improve our tax system, in particular, whether it would make the tax system more efficient, has become considerably more sophisticated and has tended to favor consumption taxation. There are now several strands of the literature arguing that a consumption tax would be more efficient than an income tax. 1 The first line of analysis was to take the lifetime budget constraint in the two-period life-cycle model, observe that an income tax hits future consumption harder than current consumption, and inquire whether such differential taxation was consistent with basic optimal tax theory.

Harberger comments that it was not until he developed a four-sector general equilibrium model that he was comfortable with the notion that labor could more than fully bear the burden of the corporate income tax in an open economy. He notes that this approach led to an intuitive and communicable story of corporate tax incidence in an open economy. Harberger designed his four-sector model to include manufacturing (corporate tradable), public utilities and transport (corporate nontradable), agriculture (noncorporate tradable) and services (noncorporate nontradable).

The three chapters that form the final part of this volume examine these crucial issues. In the opening chapter, Thomas Kniesner of Syracuse University and James Ziliak of the University of Kentucky review the voluminous empirical literature on the controversial issue of the extent of individual behavioral responses to tax changes. Kniesner and Ziliak begin by noting that an understanding of individual behavioral responses, especially in terms of labor supply, forms of compensation, and saving, is critical to an understanding of the economic effects of fundamental tax reforms and to the design of an ‘‘optimal’’ personal income tax.

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