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Tax Distortions in a Neoclassical Monetary Economy

Discussion Paper 38 | Published January 1, 1991

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Gary D. Hansen

Thomas F. Cooley

Tax Distortions in a Neoclassical Monetary Economy


In this paper we use the common perspective provided by the neoclassical growth model to evaluate the size of the distortions associated with different monetary and fiscal policies designed to finance a given sequence of government expenditures. We construct an artificial monetary economy incorporating the cash-in-advance framework of Lucas and Stokey (1983), calibrate it to match important features of the U.S. economy, and simulate it to provide a quantitative assessment of the welfare costs associated with government policies involving different combinations of taxes on capital and labor income, consumption, and holdings of money. In particular, we evaluate the welfare gains from tax reforms that are designed to replace taxes on capital or labor income with other forms of taxation. Our results suggest that the welfare costs of financing a given sequence of government expenditures are slightly lower in economies that substitute inflation or consumption taxes for the tax on labor income, but dramatically lower for economies that substitute any of these taxes for the tax on capital income. Replacing the capital tax with a consumption tax, for example, eliminates 81 percent of the welfare cost arising from distorting taxation. In addition, we show that these welfare costs can be reduced further by eliminating the capital tax with a nonstationary policy that involves a transition to a temporary policy followed by a new steady state policy rather than an immediate change to a new steady state policy.

Published In: Journal of Economic Theory (Vol. 58, No. 2, December 1992, pp. 290-316)