Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Follow-up references

In my most recent Times column, I did not have the space to fully explain the body of work that follows up on the Prescott hypothesis that higher tax rates explain lower work effort and national incomes in Western Europe. For interested readers (that is, the more nerdy ones), here are a some relevant references together with brief excerpts (emphasis added):

1. Steven Davis and Magnus Henrekson

"Lastly, let us return to the recent studies by Prescott (2002, 2003), which consider the output, employment and welfare consequences of personal taxes in an equilibrium model with one production sector and a simple labor-leisure choice for the representative household. Our evidence supports the view that tax rate differences among rich countries are a major reason for large international differences in market work time. At the same time, however, our evidence strongly suggests that labor and consumption taxes operate with powerful effect on several margins: substitution between legal and underground activity, substitution between home and market production, the mix of market production activity, and the composition of market expenditures."

2.  Indraneel Chakraborty et al. 

"Americans work more than Europeans. Using micro-data from the United States and 17 European countries, we document that women are typically the largest contributors to the cross-country differences in work hours. We also show that there is a negative relation between taxes and annual hours worked, driven by men, and a positive relation between divorce rates and annual hours worked, driven by women. In a calibrated life-cycle model with heterogeneous agents, marriage and divorce, we find that the divorce and tax mechanisms together can explain 45% of the variation in labor supply between the United States and the European countries."

3. Alberto Alesina et al. 

"Our punch line is that Europeans today work much less than Americans because of the policies of the unions in the 1970s, 1980s, and part of the 1990s and because of labor market regulations. Marginal tax rates may have also played a role, especially for women's labor force participation, but our view is that in a hypothetical competitive labor market without unions and with limited regulation, these tax increases would not have affected hours worked as much. Certainly micro evidence on the elasticity of labor supply is inconsistent with a mainly tax-based explanation of this phenomenon, even though social multiplier effects may help in this respect."

4. Raj Chetty et. al.

"Based on our reading of the micro evidence, we recommend calibrating macro models to match Hicksian elasticities of 0.3 on the intensive and 0.25 on the extensive margin and Frisch elasticities of 0.5 on the intensive and 0.25 on the extensive margin. Hence, it would be reasonable to calibrate representative agent macro models to match a Frisch elasticity of aggregate hours of 0.75. These elasticities are consistent with the observed differences in aggregate hours across countries with different tax systems."

As I noted in my column, economists disagree about the how far the tax-based explanation goes. A reasonable reading of the literature is that lower labor effort and incomes in Europe are likely due to a combination of higher tax rates, stronger unions, and greater regulations.