Tax Policy and the Size of Government

Research Report

Tax Policy and the Size of Government

June 24, 2013

Abstract

Measuring the size of government is not simple. Standard measures omit important aspects of government action such as the many deductions, credits, and other tax preferences used to influence resource allocation. We argue that many tax preferences are effectively spending. Traditional measures of government size thus understate both spending and revenues. Reductions in spending-like tax preferences are tax increases in traditional budget accounting but are effectively spending reductions; increasing marginal tax rates raises both taxes and spending in our expanded measure. Some tax increases thus reduce government, while others expand it. (Presented at the National Tax Association 2011 Annual Conference)

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