The Crucial Role of Social Welfare Criteria and Individual Heterogeneity for Optimal Inheritance Taxation

  • 1 Department of Economics, University of Copenhagen, and Center for Economic Behavior and Inequality (CEBI), Øster Farimagsgade 5, 1353, Copenhagen K, Denmark
Esteban García-MirallesORCID iD:


This paper extends the calibrations of Piketty and Saez (2013. “A Theory of Optimal Inheritance Taxation.” Econometrica 81 (5): 1851–86) to unveil the importance of the assumed social welfare criteria and its interplay with individual heterogeneity on optimal inheritance taxation. I calibrate the full social optimal tax rate and find that it is highly sensitive to the assumed social welfare criteria. The optimal tax rate ranges from negative (under a utilitarian criterion) to positive and large (even assuming joy of giving motives). A decreasing marginal utility of consumption does not affect the results qualitatively, given the underlying distribution of wealth and income. I also calibrate the optimal tax rate by percentile of the distribution of bequest received, as in Piketty and Saez, but accounting for heterogeneity in wealth and labor income. This leads to significant variation in the optimal tax rate among zero-bequest receivers, contrary to their finding of a constant tax rate.

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The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy (BEJEAP) is an international forum for scholarship that employs microeconomics to analyze issues in business, consumer behavior and public policy. Topics include the interaction of firms, the functioning of markets, the effects of domestic and international policy and the design of organizations and institutions.