Taxation of couples: a mirrleesian approach for non-unitary households
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Optimal tax theory in the Mirrlees’ (1971) tradition implicitly relies on the assumption that all agents are single or that couples may be treated as individuals, despite accumulating evidence against this view of household behavior. We consider an economy where agents may either be single or married, in which case choices result from Nash bargaining between spouses. In such an environment, tax schedules must play the double role of: i) defining households’ objective functions through their impact on threat points, and; ii) inducing the desired allocations as optimal choices for households given these objectives. We find that the taxation principle, which asserts that there is no loss in relying on tax schedules is not valid here: there are constrained efficient allocations which cannot be implemented via taxes. More sophisticated mechanisms expand the set of implementable allocations by: i) aligning the households’ and planner’s objectives; ii) manipulating taxable income elasticities, and; iii) freeing the design of singles’ tax schedules from its consequences on households’ objectives.