Negative Interest Rates: A Tax in Sheep’s Clothing

by Christopher J. Waller, Executive Vice President and Director of Research
St. Louis Fed

If you pick up any principles of economics textbook, there will typically be a discussion of taxes and tax incidence. Tax incidence describes who bears the burden of a tax. For example, suppose the government levies a payroll tax on a firm. The burden of the tax may be borne by the firm, the workers or the firm’s customers.

How can this be if the firm is responsible for paying the tax? The firm may bear the burden of the tax by accepting lower after-tax profits. However, the firm can pass the tax onto its workers by paying them lower wages or hiring fewer workers. The firm can also pass the tax onto its customers by charging them a higher price for the firm’s output. In general, all parties bear some portion of the tax.

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