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date: 17 June 2021

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter argues that a behavioral law and economics approach to tax is deeply needed for a wider normative analysis of the impacts of law on social welfare. The absence of traditional markets to serve as arbitrage mechanisms in public finance means that suboptimal tax and fiscal systems can arise and persist for long periods of time. Most of the current scholarly applications of behavioral approaches to tax, however, fail to take into account the institutional settings in which tax laws exist. For example, the common recommendation for tax-favored savings plans to counteract a persistent individual-level myopia that leads to undersavings for many suffers from the possibility of being undercut on account of the ability to borrow tax-free under the current income tax system, combined with individual-level myopia itself. Similarly, a recent trend of scholarship that argues for “low salient” taxes to help ameliorate persistent fiscal crises (themselves exacerbated by pervasive behavioral biases playing out in a setting absent effective arbitrage mechanisms) ignores or underplays the real costs of even hidden taxes, both allocatively and distributionally. The chapter concludes that the most critical work for a behavioral law and economics approach to tax lies ahead.

Keywords: public finance, behavioral public finance, behavioral law and economics, heuristics and biases

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