Published and Forthcoming

Does Taxing Business Owners Affect Employees? Evidence from a Change in the Top Marginal Tax Rate. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 2024, 139(1): 637-692

Debates about the taxation of business owners often center on the distributional impacts of these taxes, particularly the degree to which they affect workers. Drawing on a new linked owner-firm-worker dataset created from U.S. administrative tax records, I analyze how an increase in the top marginal tax rate faced by business owners affected the earnings of their employees. I use panel difference-in-differences methods to compare the earnings of workers in similar firms, but whose owners were differentially exposed to the tax increase. I estimate that 11 to 18 cents per dollar of new business income tax liability was passed through to employee earnings. I find no change in employment in response to the tax increase. The responses were generally associated with lower earnings growth, not changes in workforce composition. The burden was not borne equally by all workers. Essentially all of the workers’ share of the burden was borne by those in the top 30% of the earnings distribution, highlighting that the ultimate distributional effects of the policy depend not only the share of the burden borne by workers, but on the shares borne by different types of workers. Further, since the owners bore the majority of the burden, the policy resulted in a decrease in after-tax earnings inequality between top-bracket owners and lower-bracket workers. I discuss the implications of the findings for the mediating labor market mechanisms and for welfare analyses of income taxation using a marginal value of public funds framework.

Trickle-Down Revisited. Oxford Review of Economic Policy, 2023, 39(3): 498-512

In this paper I discuss what can be learned about “trickle-down” ideas from recent empirical evidence on tax incidence, or the effect of tax policies on the distribution of welfare. I underscore three lessons: First, recent research suggests that business income taxes affect the earnings of workers, but these effects largely derive from taxing rents and rent-sharing, highlighting the importance of these channels for determining the ultimate incidence. Second, when workers are affected by these taxes, the burden is not borne equally by all workers, but predominantly by those at the top of the earnings distribution. Third, across different tax policies that statutorily affect the rich, the burden is largely borne by the rich, but heterogeneity in responses across tax incentives and taxpayers provides context for incidence analyses.  Throughout, I discuss the value of analyzing heterogeneous responses, particularly how tax incidence depends on labor markets, product markets and tax systems. 

The Offshore World According to FATCA: New Evidence on the Foreign Wealth of U.S. Households, Accepted, Tax Policy and the Economy. (with John Guyton, Niels Johannesen, Patrick Langetieg, Daniel Reck, Joel Slemrod). NBER working paper #31055, March 2023.

This paper uses account-level information, reported to the IRS by foreign financial institutions under the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), to produce new evidence on the foreign financial wealth of U.S. households. We find that U.S. taxpayers hold around $4 trillion in foreign accounts, almost half in jurisdictions usually considered tax havens. Combining the FATCA reports with other administrative tax data and tracing account ownership through partnerships, we document a steep income gradient in the propensity to hold assets in foreign financial institutions. Specifically, more than 60% of the individuals in the top 0.01% of the income distribution own foreign accounts, the vast majority in tax havens and more than half through a partnership. We discuss the likely implications of these findings for the overall impact of FATCA on tax compliance and government revenue. 

Taxing Hidden Wealth: The Consequences of U.S. Enforcement Initiatives on Evasive Foreign Accounts (with Niels Johannesen, Patrick Langetieg, Daniel Reck and Joel Slemrod), American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, 2020, 12(3): 312-346. [Online Appendix

In 2008, the IRS initiated efforts to curb the use of offshore accounts to evade taxes. This paper uses administrative microdata to examine the impact of enforcement efforts on taxpayers’ reporting of offshore accounts and income. We find that enforcement caused approximately 50,000 individuals to disclose offshore accounts with a combined value of about $100 billion. Most disclosures happened outside offshore voluntary disclosure programs, by individuals who never admitted prior noncompliance. Disclosed accounts were concentrated in countries often characterized as tax havens. Enforcement-driven disclosures increased annual reported capital income by $2-$4 billion, corresponding to $0.6-$1.2 billion in additional tax revenue.

Working Papers

Tax Evasion at the Top of the Income Distribution: Theory and Evidence (Submitted) (with John Guyton, Patrick Langetieg, Daniel Reck and Gabriel Zucman), NBER working paper #28542, March 2021, updated December 2023. 

We study tax evasion at the top of the U.S. income distribution using micro-data from random and operational audits and focused enforcement initiatives. Leveraging enforcement that revealed noncompliance ex post, we find that under the audit methods used during 2006–2013, individual random audit data failed to capture sophisticated evasion via offshore accounts and pass-through businesses. Consequently, estimates based solely on individual random audit data from this period under-state evasion by the highest-income Americans. We propose a theoretical explanation and construct new distributional estimates of noncompliance in the United States. Accounting for sophisticated evasion increases unreported income of the top 1% of the income distribution in 2006–2013 by 50% and increases the top 1% fiscal income share by about 1 percentage point. 

Who's Afraid of the Minimum Wage? Measuring the Impacts on Independent Businesses Using Matched U.S. Tax Returns  [New!], with Nirupama Rao

A common concern surrounding minimum wage policies is their impact on independent businesses, which are feared to be less able to either bear or pass-on cost increases. We examine how independent firms accommodate minimum wage increases along product and labor market margins using a new matched owner-firm-worker panel dataset drawn from the universe of U.S. tax records over a 10-year period. We find that, on average, firms in highly exposed industries do not substantially reduce employment, but instead fully finance the added labor costs with new revenues. Among surviving firms, we even observe small average increases in owner profits. We show, however, that these average gains belie significant heterogeneity by industry and productivity. Among restaurants, the most acutely impacted industry, the minimum wage causes firm exits. Exits are concentrated among the least productive small firms, while the observed profit gains stem from the more productive surviving small restaurants. These findings are consistent with a model of Cournot competition with heterogeneous productivity and fixed production costs. The cost shock and resulting exits winnow the productivity distribution of surviving and entrant firms with demand and workers reallocated to more productive survivors. Following low-earning and young workers, we find that their earnings increase on average, they are no less likely to be employed, and their turnover rates decline when minimum wages rise.

Independent Contractors in the U.S.: New Trends from 15 years of Administrative Tax Data, with Katie Lim, Alicia Miller and Eleanor Wilking

There is growing interest among policy makers and researchers in measuring the prevalence of independent contractors (ICs), partially due to concern that these workers do not enjoy the benefits provided to employees. However, identifying IC income is difficult because most existing datasets do not track it. We make two contributions to understanding changing patterns of IC income receipt. First, we translate the legal concept of an IC relationship into one that can be used to identify these relationships in tax data. Second, we use those data to establish several new empirical facts about individuals who receive IC income and the firms that contract them. We find that the share of workers with IC income has grown by 1.5 percentage points, or 22 percent, since 2001, pre-dating the rise of the gig economy and in line with previous estimates of IC growth. Independent contractor income receipt and its growth are not evenly distributed across workers. The largest share of workers with IC income are those in the top quartile of earnings who primarily receive wage income. But the fastest growing group are those in the bottom quartile of earnings who primarily receive IC income. Women saw more growth in IC income receipt than men, and smaller firms saw more growth in IC labor usage than larger firms. Together, these trends suggest that the long-run growth in IC labor in the U.S. cannot solely be attributed to individuals seeking supplemental income, or to the rise of a few online platform firms, but may represent a structural shift in the labor market, particularly for women.

Selected Work in Progress

Intergenerational Mobility and Housing Wealth in the United States, with Ariel Binder and John Voohreis

Taxation of Innovation and Innovators, with Joel Slemrod and Stefanie Stantcheva