I study the optimal taxation of robots, other capital, and labor income. I show that it is optimal to distort robot adoption. The robot tax (or subsidy) exploits general-equilibrium effects to compress wages, which reduces income-tax distortions of labor supply, thereby raising welfare. In the calibrated model, when robots are expensive, a robot subsidy is optimal. As robots get cheaper, it becomes optimal to tax them. Yet, when reforming the status-quo tax system, most welfare gains can be achieved by adjusting the income tax. The additional gains from taxing robots differently than other equipment capital are close to zero.
This paper studies how linear tax and education policy should optimally respond to skill-biased technical change (SBTC). SBTC affects optimal taxes and subsidies by changing i) direct distributional benefits, ii) indirect redistributional effects due to wage-(de)compression, and iii) education distortions. Analytically, the effect of SBTC on these three components is shown to be ambiguous. Simulations for the US economy demonstrate that SBTC makes the tax system more progressive, since SBTC raises the direct distributional benefits of income taxes, which more than offset their larger indirect distributional losses, and it increases education distortions. Also, SBTC lowers optimal education subsidies, since SBTC generates larger direct distributional losses of education subsidies, which more than offset their larger indirect distributional gains, and it exacerbates education distortions.
How should redistributive governments change tax and education policy in response to skill- biased technical change? To answer this question, this paper merges the canonical model of skill-biased technical change due to Katz and Murphy (1992) with the continuous-type Mirrlees (1971) model. Workers of different ability face an extensive education choice to be come high-skilled. Wages are endogenous. Optimal marginal income tax rates follow the same formula as in Mirrlees (1971). The intercept of the optimal tax function differs for low-skilled and high-skilled workers, while marginal tax rates are the same for high-skilled and low-skilled workers at the cut-off ability where workers are indifferent between being high-skilled or not. We show that education should optimally be taxed on a net basis. Moreover, optimal tax and education policies do not exploit general-equilibrium effects on the wage distribution to reduce pre-tax earnings differentials. SBTC has ambigous effects on optimal marginal tax rates depending only on how social welfare weights change. SBTC has ambiguous effects on income net taxes on education, since distributional benefits and distortions simultaneously increase. Numerical simulations demonstrate that SBTC leads to higher optimal marginal income taxes for middle incomes, while lowering marginal income taxes towards the top. Skill-biased technical change raises optimal marginal income tax rates especially around the income level of the marginally high-skilled worker. The tax system becomes more progressive in response to SBTC. Education subsidies increase in response to SBTC.
Using matched employer-employee data for the Netherlands, this paper studies the proximate causes of increasing wage inequality associated with globalization and skill-biased technical change: it investigates the extent to which changes in the employment share of exporters and the exporter premium, as well as changes in the share of college graduates and the college premium have contributed to rising wage inequality in the Dutch manufacturing sector between 2001 and 2005. Decomposition techniques are used to attribute changes in the wage distribution to three components: changes in returns to characteristics, composition changes, and changes in the distribution of residuals. The main findings are as follows: first, the exporter premium changed only slightly between 2001 and 2005, thus contributing little to rising inequality; second, an increasing exporter-employment share modestly decreased overall wage dispersion; third, a rising college premium contributed between 8% and 16% to inequality growth; fourth, the contribution of a rising share of college graduates to inequality explains more than 30% of the increase in dispersion. It is concluded that if globalization contributed to wage inequality, it did so via the skill- rather than the exporter premium.