NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Positive and Normative Judgments Implicit in U.S. Tax Policy, and the Costs of Unequal Growth and Recessions

Benjamin B. Lockwood, Matthew C. Weinzierl

NBER Working Paper No. 21927
Issued in January 2016
NBER Program(s):PE

Calculating the welfare implications of changes to economic policy or shocks requires economists to decide on a normative criterion. One approach is to elicit the relevant moral criteria from real-world policy choices, converting a normative decision into a positive inference, as in the recent surge of "inverse-optimum" research. We find that capitalizing on the potential of this approach is not as straightforward as we might hope. We perform the inverse-optimum inference on U.S. tax policy from 1979 through 2010 and argue that the results either undermine the normative relevance of the approach or challenge conventional assumptions upon which economists routinely rely when performing welfare evaluations.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w21927

Published: Journal of Monetary Economics, Volume 77, February 2016, Pages 30–47

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