Fall 2018 Seminar Series - ISR 1430 or North Quad

Associate Professor of Economics

New York University

Regressive Sin Taxes, with an Application to the Optimal Soda Tax - Ehrlicher Room, 3100 North Quad
Monday November 12, 2018 (11:45 AM - 1:15 PM)

A common objection to “sin taxes”—corrective taxes on goods that are thought to be over-consumed, such as cigarettes, alcohol, and sugary drinks—is that they often fall disproportionately on low-income consumers. This paper studies the interaction between corrective and redistributive motives in a general optimal taxation framework, and delivers empirically implementable sufficient statistics formulas for determining the optimal commodity tax. The optimal sin tax is increasing in the price elasticity of demand, increasing in the degree to which lower-income consumers are more biased or more elastic to the tax, decreasing in the extent to which consumption is concentrated among the poor, and decreasing in income effects, because income effects imply that commodity taxes create labor supply distortions. Contrary to common intuitions, stronger preferences for redistribution can increase the optimal sin tax, if lower-income consumers are more responsive to taxes or are more biased. As an application, we estimate the optimal nationwide tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, using Nielsen Homescan data and a specially designed survey measuring nutrition knowledge and self-control. Our estimates imply that current city-level taxes in Berkeley and elsewhere are somewhat lower than the social optimum.

WEB: http://www.dropbox.com/s/c9uol81jtwo63bc/ALT_Paper.pdf?dl=0
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