Complex Tax Incentives


Abeler, Johannes, and Simon Jäger. 2015. “Complex Tax Incentives.” American Economic Journal: Economic Policy 7 (3): 1-28.
Complex Tax Incentives937 KB


How does tax complexity affect people’s reaction to tax changes? To answer this question, we conduct an experiment in which subjects work for a piece rate and face taxes. One treatment features a simple, the other a complex tax system. The payoff-maximizing output level and the incentives around this optimum are, however, identical across treatments. We introduce the same sequence of additional taxes in both treatments. Subjects in the complex treatment underreact to new taxes; some ignore new taxes entirely. The underreaction is stronger for subjects with lower cognitive ability. Contrary to predictions from models of rational inattention, subjects are equally likely to ignore large or small incentive changes. 

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Last updated on 08/04/2015