Tax knowledge and tax manipulation: A unifying model

Authors: Ashley C Craig and Joel Slemrod (University of Michigan)

We provide a unified analysis of taxation and taxpayer education when individuals have an incomplete understanding of a complex tax system. The analysis is independent of whether income is earned legitimately, or by avoiding or evading taxes. In this sense, learning about tax minimization strategies (tax manipulation) is isomorphic to learning about tax rates. The government in our model balances a trade-off: A better understanding of the tax system potentially allows taxpayers to optimize more effectively, but also affects government revenue. Optimal taxpayer education and the optimal amount of redistribution can both be characterized by aggregate sufficient statistics, which do not require information about how biases or behavioral responses vary across the decision margins. We provide similarly simple rules for how tax rates on different income-generating activities should be set relative to each other.

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