How Do Firms Respond to Corporate Taxes?

Authors: Jeffrey L. Coles, Elena Patel, Nathan Seegert, Matthew Smith

Abstract: Using a novel empirical approach and newly available administrative data on U.S. tax filings, we estimate the corporate elasticity of taxable income, decompose the elasticity into economic responses versus other tax-motivated “accounting” transactions, and determine how responsiveness varies depending on accounting method, firm size, and interest rate. In response to a 10% increase in the expected marginal tax rate, private U.S. firms decrease taxable income by 9.1%, which indicates a discernibly more elastic response than prevailing estimates. This response reflects a decrease in taxable income of 3.0% arising from real economic responses to a firm’s scale of operations and 6.1% arising from accounting transactions via (for example) revenue and expense timing. Responsiveness to the corporate tax rate is more elastic if a firm uses cash (9.9%) rather than accrual accounting (7.4%), if the firm is small (9.9%) rather than large (8.6%), and if the firm discounts future cash flows at a lower rate.