What have been the economic impacts of existing government tax and expenditure programs? Among the questions looked at here:

To what degree have existing social insurance programs such as Social Security, disability insurance, and unemployment insurance helped stabilize household consumption? What economic distortions are created in the process?
How can the provision of key public services such as education and health care be made more cost effective?
How have existing safety-net programs done in alleviating poverty and improving the future success of poor children? To what degree do these programs distort household incentives?
What have been the economic impacts of recent and proposed tax reforms?

Latest articles

The incentives of centralized school admissions systems

Many school districts have adopted centralized admissions systems to coordinate student assignments. These systems ask students to rank the schools they would like to attend and then use an algorithm to coordinate placement. These algorithms consider student preferences, eligibility criteria and school capacities. In order to better understand student preferences and the performance of various systems, this study develops a general methodology to analyze the reports on student preferences submitted to school choice systems.

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Tax evasion and inequality

How widespread is tax evasion – and what does that imply for the true extent of inequality? This research explores these questions by analyzing a unique dataset of leaked customer lists from offshore financial institutions matched to administrative wealth records in Scandinavia. The results show that offshore tax evasion is highly concentrated among the rich. The top 0.01% of households by wealth evade about a quarter of the taxes they owe, largely by concealing assets and investment income abroad. Top wealth shares in Denmark, Norway and Sweden increase substantially when adding back these unreported assets, highlighting the need to take account of tax evasion to measure inequality accurately.

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The costs of public sector patronage: lessons from the British Empire

Civil servants constitute a key element of state capacity, with the responsibility for raising government revenues, providing public services and implementing reforms. But what happens to their performance when they are appointed to office less on the basis of their talents than on their social connections to powerful patrons? This research examines the costs of patronage through the lens of a historical bureaucracy that spanned the globe: Britain’s Colonial Office. The research combines newly digitized personnel and public finance data from the administration of the British Empire over the period 1854-1966 to show how patronage influenced the promotion and performance of colonial governors.

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Measuring the impact of US state taxation on business activity

There is considerable anecdotal evidence of US companies moving from high-tax states to low-tax states, but what do the data reveal about the impact of state taxation on economic activity? This research finds that firms subject to state-level corporate taxation respond to higher corporate tax rates by closing establishments and reducing employment; those subject only to state-level personal income taxation respond similarly to individual income tax rates, though to a lesser extent. Since half of these responses are due to reallocation of business activity to lower-tax states, tax competition across states clearly plays a first-order role in corporate decision-making.

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Optimal timing of unemployment benefits: evidence from Sweden

A public program of unemployment benefits aims to protect people against job loss, but it should ideally be designed so that it doesn’t encourage them to stay out of work too much longer than they otherwise would. This research explores how policy can achieve the ideal balance between maximizing the insurance value of benefits while minimizing the incentive cost. Analyzing data from Sweden on unemployment, consumption, income, and wealth, the findings indicate that contrary to recent reforms that push towards making the generosity of benefits decline over the unemployment spell, it is more socially desirable to reduce benefits for the short-term unemployed in order to raise them for the long-term unemployed.

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US Treasury auctions: measuring the effectiveness of primary markets for government securities

How should government bonds be sold? Research typically emphasizes how the auction design affects outcomes depending on the nature of demand and the competitive environment. This study combines models of strategic bidding in Treasury auctions with detailed bidding data to construct empirical measures that reveal the effectiveness of auctions. Applying these methods to data on US Treasury auctions shows that the gains from optimizing the auction mechanism are no more than 5 basis points. The research also quantifies the advantage enjoyed by primary dealers in these markets, who are able to observe the ‘willingness-to-pay’ of their customers who route their bids through them.

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Growth and well-being: policy should not be based on GDP alone

Economists are often accused of focusing excessively on GDP, with the result that government policies make GDP a priority to the detriment of other contributors to well-being. This research proposes a broader summary statistic that incorporates consumption, leisure, mortality and inequality. While the new statistic is highly correlated with GDP per capita, cross-national deviations are often large: Western Europe looks considerably closer to the United States; emerging Asia has not caught up as much; and many developing countries are further behind. Each component of the statistic plays a significant role in explaining these differences, with mortality being the most important. While still imperfect, the statistic arguably provides better guidance for determining public priorities and evaluating policies than does GDP alone.

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The surprising power of tax stimulus to the housing market

In September 2008, the UK government announced a surprise stimulus policy in response to a dramatic fall in the housing market: a property transaction tax on houses sold in a certain price range was temporarily eliminated. This column reports research showing that this stimulus boosted transaction volumes by 20% and increased consumer spending by an amount equal to the forgone tax revenue. Cutting transaction taxes during economic downturns can thus be an effective way to stimulate both the housing market and the broader economy.

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Where star scientists choose to locate: the impact of US state taxes

What are the effects of geographical variations in personal and corporate taxes on the location decisions of innovative individuals and companies? This column reports research showing that state taxes have a significant effect on the localization of star scientists and firms that employ star scientists. Local policy-makers would do well to consider this previously unrecognized cost of high taxes when deciding how much to tax highly productive, high-income workers.

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Who benefits from corporate tax cuts? Evidence from local US labour markets

Quantifying who benefits from corporate tax cuts requires estimates of the effects of taxes on the local economy and on the location decisions of firms and workers. This research analyses every change in state business taxes in the United States since 1980 to show that the largest beneficiaries from a tax cut are the owners of firms (40%), with landowners and workers splitting the remaining (60%) of the economic gains. Where the benefits of corporate tax cuts fall ultimately depends on the relative mobility of firms and workers – and many factors other than tax rates influence their choice of location.

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