Vissa skatter är mer synliga än andra

En del skatter märks mer än andra; och en och samma skatt märks olika mycket beroende på hur den tas ut. När skatter inte är fullt synliga för skattebetalarna brukar man tala om fiskal illusion. Effekten av en skatt påverkas därför inte bara av skattens storlek utan också av dess grad av synlighet.

Ny forskning, i form av uppsatsen ”Salience and Taxation: Theory and Evidence”, ger både teoretiskt och empiriskt stöd för att skatters synlighet spelar en märkbar roll för ekonomiskt beteende.

Abstract:

A central assumption in public finance is that individuals optimize fully with respect to the incentives created by tax policies. In this paper, we test this assumption using two empirical strategies. First, we conducted an experiment at a grocery store where we posted tax-inclusive prices for 750 products subject to sales tax for a three week period. Using scanner data, we find that posting tax-inclusive prices reduced demand by roughly 8 percent among the treated products relative to control products and nearby control stores. Second, we find that state-level increases in excise taxes (which are included in posted prices) reduce aggregate alcohol consumption significantly more than increases in sales taxes (which are added at the register and hence less salient). Both sets of results indicate that tax salience affects behavioral responses. We propose a bounded rationality model to explain why salience matters, and show that it matches our evidence as well as several additional stylized facts. In the model, agents incur second-order (small) utility losses from ignoring some taxes, even though these taxes have first-order (large) effects on social welfare and government revenue. Using this theoretical framework, we develop elasticity-based formulas for the efficiency cost and incidence of commodity taxes when agents do not optimize fully.

Uppdatering: Uppsatsen är nu publicerad i American Economic Review.