NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
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Optimal Taxation and R&D Policies

Ufuk Akcigit, Douglas Hanley, Stefanie Stantcheva

NBER Working Paper No. 22908
Issued in December 2016, Revised in June 2017

---- Acknowledgments ----

We study the optimal design of R&D policies and corporate taxation as a dynamic mechanism design with externalities. The outputs of innovation are not appropriable in the absence of intellectual property rights policies and there are non-internalized technology spillovers across firms. Firms are heterogeneous in their research productivity, i.e., in the efficiency with which they convert a given set of R&D inputs into successful innovations. There is asymmetric information about firms' research productivity and its stochastic evolution over time that prevents the first best solution to the technology spillover. We characterize the optimal constrained efficient allocations over firms' life cycles and for firms of different productivities. We show that the constrained efficient allocations can be implemented either by a patent system plus a price subsidy, together with a parsimonious R&D subsidy function or, equivalently, by a prize mechanism. We estimate our model using firm-level data matched to patent data and quantify the optimal policies. Simpler innovation policies, such as linear R&D subsidies and linear profit taxes, lead to large revenue losses relative to the optimal mechanism. Our formulas and theoretical and numerical methods are more broadly applicable to the provision of firm incentives in dynamic settings with asymmetric information and spillovers. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.

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