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Labs of Democracy: Using Regional Variation to Understand Fiscal Policy Issues


This dissertation uses a regional approach to assess the aggregate effects of cutting taxes on corporations and on taxpayers in different income groups. Determining the optimal course for economic policy critically depends on the efficiency and equity consequences of these policies.

The first chapter of this dissertation estimates the incidence of state corporate taxes on workers, landowners, and firm owners in a spatial equilibrium model in which corporate taxes affect the location choices of both firms and workers. Heterogeneous, location-specific productivities and preferences determine the mobility of firms and workers, respectively. Owners of monopolistically competitive firms receive economic profits and may bear the incidence of corporate taxes as heterogeneous productivity can make them inframarginal in their location choices. We derive a simple expression for equilibrium incidence as a function of a few estimable parameters. Using variation in state corporate tax rates and apportionment rules, we estimate the reduced-form effects of tax changes on firm and worker location decisions, wages, and rental costs. We then use minimum distance methods to recover the parameters that determine equilibrium incidence as a function of these reduced-form effects. In contrast to previous assumptions of infinitely mobile firms and perfectly immobile workers, we find that firms are only approximately twice as mobile as workers over a ten-year period. This fact, along with equilibrium impacts on the housing market, implies that firm owners bear roughly 40% of the incidence, while workers and land owners bear 35% and 25%, respectively. Finally, we derive revenue-maximizing state corporate tax rates and discuss interactions with other local taxes and apportionment formulae.

The second chapter investigates how tax changes for different income groups affect macroeconomic activity. Using historical tax returns from NBER's TAXSIM, I construct a measure of who received (or paid for) Romer and Romer exogenous tax changes. I aggregate these tax changes by income group and state. Variation in the income distribution across U.S. states and federal tax changes generate variation in regional tax shocks that I exploit to test for heterogeneous effects. I find that the negative relationship between tax changes and growth is largely driven by tax changes for lower-income groups and that the effect of tax cuts for the top 10% on employment growth is small.

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