Comparing the Incidence of Taxes and Social Spending in Brazil and the United States

Sean Higgins*, Nora Lustig, Whitney Ruble, Timothy M. Smeeding

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


We perform the first comprehensive fiscal incidence analyses in Brazil and the U.S., including direct cash and food transfers, targeted housing and heating subsidies, public spending on health and education, and taxes on personal income, payroll, corporate income, property, and expenditures. The countries share a number of similarities that make the comparison interesting, including high levels of inequality given their levels of development, high inequality of opportunity, large and racially diverse populations, and similar sizes of government. The U.S. achieves higher redistribution through direct taxes and transfers, primarily because Brazil underutilizes personal income taxes and keeps its progressive cash and food transfer programs small, while its larger transfer programs are less progressive. When public spending on health and non-tertiary education is added to income using the government cost approach, however, the two countries achieve similar levels of redistribution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)S22-S46
JournalReview of Income and Wealth
StatePublished - Aug 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • fiscal policy
  • inequality
  • social spending
  • taxation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Economics and Econometrics


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