OECD Economics Department Working Papers

Working papers from the Economics Department of the OECD that cover the full range of the Department’s work including the economic situation, policy analysis and projections; fiscal policy, public expenditure and taxation; and structural issues including ageing, growth and productivity, migration, environment, human capital, housing, trade and investment, labour markets, regulatory reform, competition, health, and other issues.

The views expressed in these papers are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the OECD or of the governments of its member countries.

English, French

The Equity Implications of Fiscal Consolidation

In several OECD countries, ongoing fiscal consolidation might have a negative impact on the static income distribution. However, this conclusion should be treated only as an approximate first step in the analysis. A full assessment of distributional effects of consolidation packages would need to consider dynamic measures, such as life-time income distribution and the equality of opportunity, along with behavioural responses and interactions with other policies. In any case, there is scope to balance current consolidation efforts in favour of more equity with only limited adverse impact on potential growth. In particular, relatively little weight has been given to reducing tax expenditures and raising taxes on immovable property. A number of consolidation instruments are consistent with equity goals while doing little or no harm to potential growth: increases in the effective retirement age, raising efficiency in the education and health care systems, cutting certain tax expenditures, hiking taxes on immovable property and broadly-based consumption taxes. Increases in capital income taxes would also be equitable but need to be well designed to avoid being distortive. Calculations based on simplifying assumptions indicate that increasing household direct taxes would reduce income inequality, while cutting transfers by the same amount would have a larger and opposite effect on inequality. However, raising progressive labour income taxes could have adverse effects on long-run growth. Cuts in government wages and employment can yield fast consolidation gains but need to be accompanied by increases in efficiency of service delivery to avoid that reductions in public services mainly hit the poor. Cuts in unemployment-related and disability benefits will likely hit poorer people in the first place but may have less adverse effects on inequality in the long run once employment increases in response to a better incentive structure.


Keywords: income inequality, redistribution, transfers, taxes, fiscal consolidation, welfare system
JEL: H23: Public Economics / Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue / Taxation and Subsidies: Externalities; Redistributive Effects; Environmental Taxes and Subsidies; H3: Public Economics / Fiscal Policies and Behavior of Economic Agents; H2: Public Economics / Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue; I38: Health, Education, and Welfare / Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty / Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty: Government Policy; Provision and Effects of Welfare Programs; H53: Public Economics / National Government Expenditures and Related Policies / Government Expenditures and Welfare Programs; I3: Health, Education, and Welfare / Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty
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