Charity as Income Redistribution: A Model with Optimal Taxation, Status, and Social Stigma

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September 2019
Paper author(s): 
Thomas Aronsson
Olof Johansson-Stenman
Ronald Wendner
Poverty - Inequality - Aid Effectiveness
Fiscal Policy - Public and Welfare Economics

In light of the increasing inequality in many countries, this paper analyzes redistributive charitable giving from the rich to the poor in a model of optimal nonlinear income taxation. Our framework integrates (i) public and private redistribution, (ii) the warm glow of giving and stigma of receiving charitable donations, and (iii) status concerns emanating from social comparisons with respect to charitable donations and private consumption. Whether charity should be taxed or supported largely depends on the relative strengths of the warm glow of giving and the stigma of receiving charity, respectively, and on the positional externalities caused by charitable donations. In addition, imposing stigma on the mimicker (which relaxes the self-selection constraint) strengthens the case for subsidizing charity. We also consider a case where the government is unable to target the charitable giving through a direct tax instrument, and we examine how the optimal marginal income tax structure should be adjusted in response to charitable giving. Numerical simulations demonstrate that the quantitative effects of the aforementioned mechanisms can be substantial.


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