Taxation and the Superrich
This paper addresses the modern optimal tax progressivity literature, which clarifies the key role of the behavioral response to taxation and accounts for the incomes of the superrich being qualitatively different than others. Some may be “superstars,” for whom small differences in talent are magnified into much larger earnings differences, while others may work in winner-take-all markets, such that their effort to climb the ladder of success reduces the returns to others. We stress that pivotal tax-rate elasticities are not structural parameters, and will be smaller the broader and less plastic is the tax base and the more effective is the enforcement of tax evasion. For this reason, normative analysis of tax rates should be accompanied by attention to the tax base, with special attention to capital gains, which comprise a large fraction of the taxable income of the superrich.
We thank Emily Horton, Paul Kindsgrab and Simona Sartor for excellent research assistance. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.