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The theories of optimal taxation and redistributive justice have been successful in deriving the distribution of incomes that best conciliates fairness and efficiency, given some normative criterion (see e.g. Piketty and Saez [2013], Fleurbaey and Maniquet [2017]). Yet, it is unclear whether these theories can be applied in a democracy since nothing guarantees that any optimal tax schedule could gather a majority approval. To investigate the political acceptability of redistributive reforms—identified as a majority approval, the problem needs to depart from the sole pursuit of the optimal tax and becomes: “What redistributions would (a majority of) people support?”
Such a perspective is also orthogonal to the so-called inverse-optimum literature, which uses the correspondence between ethical criteria and tax schedules to reverse-engineer tax systems and reveals the implicit criterion that would make current income tax rates optimal (see e.g. Bourguignon and Spadaro [2012], Bargain et al. [2014], Hendren [2014], Chang, Chang and Kim [2017]). Indeed, this strand of the literature does not address a potential misalignment between a majority’s preference and the tax progressivity decided by the social planner. Acknowledging this potential misalignment also contrasts with existing studies in the political economy of taxation (e.g. Bierbrauer, Boyer and Peichl [2021]).
Instead, our question relates to the large literature that uses surveys to uncover determinants for preferences for income distribution, quantify inequality aversion, measure their evolution, and compare inclinations in different countries…

English

An original survey method to find the shape of favored redistributions is presented, in turn used to assess the political acceptability of the optimal tax theory. A first survey elicited median preferred parameters of a redistribution (50% of winners, 10% of losers and a monthly demogrant of €800). In a second survey, a majority approved redistributions derived from the parameters’ interpolation. It is shown that the optimal taxation derived from a utilitarian criterion fails to obtain a significant majority support (contrarily to others), despite its good reception in a setting inhibiting self-interest. Finally, this study provides evidence that French citizens support a more direct democratic procedure to define the income tax rates.
JEL Codes: D31, D63, H21, P16.

  • preferences for redistribution
  • desired tax
  • income tax rates
  • income distribution
  • optimal tax
  • France
Français

Déterminer par des enquêtes la redistribution souhaitée

Est présentée une méthode d’enquête pour déterminer la forme de redistributions appréciées, elles-mêmes utilisées pour évaluer l’acceptabilité politique de la théorie de la taxation optimale. Une première enquête identifie les préférences médianes de paramètres d’une redistribution (50 % de gagnants, 10 % de perdants et un revenu minimal de 800 €/mois). Une seconde enquête montre qu’une majorité approuverait des redistributions dérivées de leur interpolation. Le barème théoriquement optimal n’obtient pas de soutien majoritaire significatif car il fait trop de perdants. Enfin, cette étude révèle que les Français soutiennent une procédure démocratique plus directe pour définir le barème d’imposition.

  • préférences pour la redistribution
  • taxe désirée
  • impôt sur les revenus
  • distribution des revenus
  • taxation optimale
  • France
Adrien Fabre
ETH Zürich. Correspondence: Zürichbergstrasse 18, 8032 Zürich, Switzerland.
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