The Marginal Tax Rate & the Average Tax Rate

The marginal tax rate of 15 percent is greater than the average tax rate of 12.9 percent. There is a difference between the tax you pay on average and the tax rate charged on the last dollar of income. [3] Leaving aside the details of exemptions and deductions, the essence of the income tax code is captured in the table and figures we have just presented. Even these, however, are quite complicated. We want to build income taxes into our framework of the economy, so it would be nice if we could decide on a simpler way to represent the tax code. The art of economics lies in deciding how to take something complicated, like the US income tax code, and represent it in as simple a way as possible while still retaining the features that matter to the problem under discussion. Looking at Figure 12.3, we can see that the relationship between taxes paid and taxable income looks approximately like a straight line. It is not exactly a straight line because it becomes steeper as marginal tax rates increase. For our purposes in this chapter, however, it is a reasonable simplification to represent this relationship as a line—that is, to suppose that the marginal tax rate is constant. In addition, we ignore the standard deduction and exemption. That is, we suppose that people start paying taxes on their very first dollar of income. Thus we suppose that taxes paid = tax rate × income. Representing the tax schedule this way is fine if we want to examine the economy as a whole and are not particularly concerned with the way in which taxes affect different households. We use this simplified model of the tax system at various times in this chapter. Effects of Changes in Tax Rates We can use this simple model of the tax system to see how a change in the income tax rate affects both individuals and the economy as a whole. Suppose there is a cut in the tax rate. Since taxes paid = tax rate × income, the immediate impact is to reduce the amount of taxes households pay: for a given income, a reduction in the tax rate reduces taxes paid. This means that disposable income, which is the income left over after paying taxes and receiving transfers, increases. What do households do with the increase in disposable income? A likely answer is that a typical household spends some of this extra income and saves the remainder. If all households follow this pattern, then the increased spending by each household translates into larger consumption in the aggregate economy. At this point, the power of the circular flow of income will take over, and the level of income and output in the economy will increase even further.

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