Wednesday, November 18, 2020
Edward Fox (Michigan) & Zachary Liscow (Yale) present The Psychology of Taxing Capital Income: Evidence from a Survey Experiment on the Realization Rule virtually at UC-Irvine today as part of its Tax Policy Colloquium Series hosted by Joshua Blank, Victor Fleischer, and Omri Marian:
The realization rule is central to income tax law, but often decreases the efficiency, equality, and simplicity of the system. Given these problems, it is surprising that we do not have a good explanation for why the rule exists for liquid assets. Scholars have long speculated about the role of the public’s views here, but little is known empirically about them. We conduct the first survey experiment to understand the psychology of taxing gains on unsold assets.
In this draft, we present the results of a pilot version of the survey. Though results are very preliminary, we have three main findings. First, respondents are far less supportive of taxing gains in unsold publicly-traded stock than sold stock, with a difference in support of 37 percentage points. This lack of support persists and seems strengthened when looking across a variety of other policy framings. Second, informing people of the arguments on “both sides” of taxing unsold stock considerably decreases support (by 19 percentage points) for taxing unsold stock.
And, third, addressing respondents’ stated reasons for opposing taxing unsold gains does not change their mind, suggesting that a deep intuition, perhaps driven by mental accounting, may be driving respondents’ opposition.