Pareto Efficient and Optimal Taxation and the New New Welfare Economics

Joseph E. Stiglitz

NBER Working Paper No. 2189 (Also Reprint No. r1074)
Issued in March 1987
NBER Program(s):   PE

This paper surveys recent developments in the theory of pareto efficient taxation. This literature attempts to characterize those tax structures which, given the limitations on the government's information and other limitations on the government's ability to impose taxes, maximize the welfare of one individual (group of individuals) subject to the government obtaining a given revenue and subject to other (groups of) individuals attaining certain specified levels of utility. Utilitarian (or other) social welfare functions can then be used to select among these pareto efficient tax structures. While the original goal of this line of research, which was to provide a "scientific" basis for arguing for a progressive tax structure, has not been achieved--and does not seem achievable--important insights have been gleaned, which should enable governments to make better choices of tax policies in the future. On the other hand, this research has cast serious doubt on the relevance of many long standing results, including those of Ramsey concerning the structure of commodity taxes.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w2189

Published: Stiglitz, Joseph. "Pareto Efficient and Optimal Taxation and the New New Welfare Economics." From Handbook of Public Economics, edited by Alan J. Auerbach and Martin Feldstein, pp. 991-1042. Amsterdam: Elsevier Science Publishers B.V. (North-Holland), 1987.

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