José María Durán-Cabré, Alejandro Esteller-Moré, Mariona Mas-Montserrat
2019/04: Behavioural responses to the (re)introduction of wealth taxes. Evidence from Spain
In the throes of economic crisis, the Spanish government decided to reintroduce the Wealth Tax, appealing to redistributive motives and its need for greater revenues. This paper studies how individuals reacted to the reintroduction of this tax by drawing on the universe of wealth tax returns submitted to the Catalan Tax Agency between 2011 and 2015. Thus, we exploit the variation in treatment exposure to analyse taxpayers’ responses, in terms not only of wealth accumulation, but also of the potential avoidance strategies adopted. Indeed, our results reflect avoidance rather than real responses. They show that while facing higher wealth taxes did not have a negative effect on taxpayers’ savings, it did encourage them to change their asset and income composition to take advantage of wealth tax exemptions (mostly business-related) and the existence of a limit on wealth tax liability. This translates into an elasticity of taxable wealth with respect to the net-of-tax rate of return of 0.64, or, put differently, a 0.1 percentage point increase in the average wealth tax rate leads to a reduction in taxable wealth of 3.24% over 4 years. Overall, these avoidance responses are quite marked in terms of tax revenues: they represent a 4-year accumulated revenue loss of 2.6 times the 2011 estimated wealth tax revenues. The existence of such responses mostly related to the design of the wealth tax has relevant policy implications not only in terms of revenues but also insofar as it undermines the tax’s redistributive role.