Essays on Transatlantic Differences in Taxation, Redistribution and Provision of Public Goods

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This dissertation investigates differences between the U.S. and Europe in the levels of taxation, redistribution, provision of public goods, and perception of fairness in income inequality. The first chapter concentrates on the differences between the U.S. and Scandinavia in higher education, and asks how it is possible that the U.S. has considerably more unequal higher educational attainment, higher reliance on private education and lower taxes than Nordic Europe, given similar political institutions. To address this question, I develop a parsimonious overlapping generations model in which agents can choose between public and private education. I first show that for a given tax rate difference of 7 percent, the model can deliver the observed educational Transatlantic differences, without having to rely on cross-country differences in preferences, parameters or other unorthodox elements. Next, I show the model can provide insight into how either the U.S. or the Nordic tax regimes could receive political consent. My explanation is due to the fact that per-capita output and other macroeconomic variables are U-shaped in taxes, both in the model and in the cross-country data. The economic intuition behind this finding is that while at low tax rates an increase in taxes and public education provision dampen human capital accumulation due to marked drops in private education attainment, at high tax rates public education provision gets sufficiently large that a majority of the population prefers public over private education, and further increases in taxes boost public education attainment more than they reduce private one.

The second chapter incorporates the Transatlantic differences in perceptions into the picture and asks how the fact that a majority of Europeans believe income differences are primarily due to luck while a majority of Americans attribute such differences to the role of effort and skill reconciles with Transatlantic macroeconomic differences. I extend the model from the first chapter to include two sources of individual income differences: an inborn competence shock which affects labor supply choice and education decisions, and a luck shock on income, which is orthogonal to decision rules and inborn abilities. I find that low taxes coupled with low public education provision, as in the U.S. case, induce a large impact of inborn competence on schooling and labor supply, which in turn implies that a large share of the U.S. income differences are due to skill, education and effort. By contrast, a combination of high taxes and high public education, as in Europe, minimizes total income inequality and differences due to effort and inborn competence, and magnifies the impact of luck on inequality, in accordance with the existing beliefs. I also show that the U-shaped behavior of macro variables and welfare gains in taxes, as documented in the first chapter, carries over to this model, thereby providing insight into the political sustainability of macroeconomic variables and perceptions.