The Promise of Positive Optimal Taxation: A Generalized Theory Calibrated to Survey Evidence on Normative Preferences Explains Puzzling Features of Policy
At the heart of modern optimal tax research is the assumption that the objective of taxation is Utilitarian. I present new survey evidence that most people disagree with this assumption, preferring tax policies based at least in part on a classic alternative objective: the principle of Equal Sacrifice. I generalize the standard model to accommodate this preference for a mixed objective. Then, I show that optimal policy in this generalized model, calibrated to the survey evidence, quantitatively matches several features of existing tax policy that are incompatible in the conventional model but widely endorsed in reality, including the coexistence of substantial redistribution and limited tagging. Additional implications increase the appeal of these steps toward a positive theory of optimal taxation.