June 14, 2011
Jennifer C. Gravelle
This paper reviews seven recent studies that have used empirical methods to examine the incidence of the corporate income tax. These regression-based studies follow three general approaches. The first group of studies uses the variation in corporate tax rates across countries to determine the effect of the tax on wages. A second group adopts the same approach, but uses the variation in corporate tax rates across U.S. states instead of focusing on cross-country differences. The third set of studies adopts wage bargaining models to analyze the effect of corporate taxes on wages. In some regards, the empirical approach offers advantages over the general equilibrium models usually used to analyze the incidence of the corporate tax, because the empirical studies are data driven and less rigid than the general equilibrium models. However, the empirical approach also has drawbacks: In order to fully account for the responses of labor and capital in general equilibrium, the reduced form regression analysis has to rely on aggregate data, which do not account adequately for the many factors that affect macro variables. In addition, each of the studies examined in this paper raises methodological concerns. As a consequence, the findings of the empirical studies seem inconsistent with observable data. General equilibrium models, which constrain results to the magnitudes of the economy, may be a more reliable source for specific estimates of the incidence of corporate tax than the empirical studies.