Thursday, January 26, 2012
Lucy Barnes (Nuffield College, Oxford University) presents When Does Tax Reform Occur and What Shapes its Distributional Effects? Coalition Politics in the United States at Indiana-Bloomington today as part of its Tax Policy Colloquium Series hosted by Ajay Mehrotra:
What explains variation in the progressivity of taxation across countries andover time? Most existing explanations highlight the relationship between spending levels and the structure of tax- ation, arguing that the efficiency constraints associated with larger government size lead to less progressive tax structures. However, this literature overlooks the political determinants of tax policy choices. Thus I consider the role that political parties play in determining the progressiv- ity of taxation, testing the `conventional wisdom' that left parties should adopt more progressive stances than right against theories highlighting credible commitment which suggest the opposite (Timmons 2010). However, these results are inconsistent with the partisan evolution of tax structures within countries (rather than between them).
Given the systematic association of left governments with dierent electoral systems and thus types of government, I investigate whether it is these dierences driving the cross-national asso- ciations. Detailed case studies of the United States, United Kingdom and France at the origins of modern taxation (1890 - 1914) reveal that the degree of political fragmentation -- manifested in both multiparty parliamentary systems and coalition governments -- affects the structure of taxation. Greater political fragmentation leads to less progressive systems of taxation. Combined with the large literature on the eect of fragmentation in generating larger welfare states, this implies that in addition to the direct economic link between larger welfare states and regressive tax structures, there is also a link that stems from their common political causes.